Charleston, Ill. – Tennessee State University used an all-around effort in the Tigers’ 18-17 victory over Eastern Illinois on Saturday afternoon at O’Brien Field. TSU tallied 13 points in the fourth quarter to pick up their fourth win of the season.
Tailback Trabis Ward added two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Tigers (4-5, 3-3 OVC) drove 70-plus yards on two drives to pick up a crucial road victory over EIU (2-8, 1-7 OVC) in front of 6,774 fans.
TSU put together a 15-play drive to make it a 17-12 contest with 14:28 left in the contest. With 1:49 remaining, the Tigers capped off a 77-yard drive with a Ward one-yard rushing touchdown. The defense used stealthy protection to force the Panthers to drop a fourth down pass, giving the Tigers the win.
Eastern Illinois failed on all five fourth down conversion attempts against the Tigers.
TSU grinded out 318 yards of offense overcoming two turnovers. The rushing attack proved solid as the Tigers netted 200 yards on the ground.
Ward, a redshirt sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, posted a career-high 142 yards with two touchdowns. Senior tailback Dante’ Ward added 61 yards on the ground.
Calvin McNairl led the Tigers receiving corps with seven catches for 55 yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael German completed 11 passes for 118 yards.
The Big Blue defense forced three fumbles and picked up an interception. Daniel Fitzpatrick once again led the Tigers with nine tackles and a half tackle-for- loss. Senior linebacker Rico Council notched four tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup. Justin Bather and Joseph Wylie picked up fumble recoveries, while Wilson Robinson had his first career interception.
Placekicker Jamin Godfrey established a couple of career milestones on Saturday. The Englewood, Tenn., native hit a career-long 51-yard field goal, which ranked second in TSU history. The field goal also marked his 15th of the season, setting a new school record surpassing Eric Benson’s best of 14 set in 2008.
The Panthers attacked first when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed a 13-yard touchdown to Chris Wright with 9:22 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers avoided another potential EIU score when Robinson picked up his first career interception at the 7:08 mark in the first quarter.
Tennessee State picked up their first points of the game in an unconventional way. The snap sailed 20-yards over the EIU punters head to cut the Tigers deficit to 7-2 with 4:28 left in the first.
Despite stalling on offense, special teams once again capitalized after EIU’s punt returner fumbled the ball at their own 30. Bather recovered his first fumble of the year.
EIU hit a field goal, but the points were wiped off the ball after the Tigers were offsides. Subsequently, the Panthers fumbled the ball as Wylie picked up his first recovery of the season.
Godfrey notched a career-long 51-yard field goal with 5.8 seconds left in the first half to narrow the Tigers deficit to 7-5.
The Panthers added their second touchdown in the third quarter with a 5 play, 62 yard drive. Jake Walker tallied the four-yard touchdown to give EIU a 14-5 lead with 12:55 remaining in the third.
Cameron Berea nailed a 37-yard field goal to put the Panthers up 17-5 with 7:12 left in the third quarter.
Tennessee State pulled of a 15-play, 78 yard drive to pull within five points. Ward’s two-yard touchdown gave him a team-best eighth of the season.
Another long yardage situation was needed for the Tigers. This time it took only 2:49 for TSU to put points on the board. German completed a 29-yard pass to Billy Davis setting up the Tigers in prime field position. He then connected to Wesley Samuels for 13 yards before Ward tacked in the one-yard touchdown.
Garoppolo finished with 14 completions for 149 yards and a score for the Panthers. Walker had 24 carries for 109 yards and one touchdown.
Tennessee State returns home for the final two games of the season. Next Saturday, Nov. 12 will be TSU’s annual homecoming game when the Tigers host in-state foe UT Martin. Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m. at LP Field.
NOTES: EIU won the toss and deferred to the second half…TSU received the ball in the first half… Freshman linebacker Nick Thrasher made his first career start at EIU…Wilson Robinson intercepted his first career pass at 7:08 in the first quarter…TSU was held to two points in the first quarter, the lowest point total for the Tigers since being shutout at Murray State on Sept. on Sept. 17…Godfrey’s 51-yard field goal was just two yards shy of the school record set by Seth Goodowens in 1999…TSU compiled 135 offensive yards in the first half, including just 35 passing yards…TSU’s 15-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter was the longest for the Tigers this season.
TENNESSEE STATE HEAD COACH ROD REED QUOTES
Our special teams got us a turnover. Defense took the ball over a couple of times and we turned it over a couple of times. We didn’t convert in the redzone like we should have and we missed a field goal. But, I am really proud of how this team persevered and came through with the win. As a young football team that came on the road five hours away from home, we could have easily folded. The guys kept fighting. Our offense grinded out a huge score and our defense had a big stop on fourth down. I am extremely proud of these kids as they showed a lot of character today.
On the play of Eastern Illinois
It came down to the wire. Eastern Illinois is a good football team because they played UT Martin down to the wire in a 24-23 game. We knew what we were getting into coming into this game. I think the kids did a great job in preparation and hopefully we can carry this game into Homecoming this week.
On the final home game for EIU Head Coach Bob Spoo
Hats off to Coach Bob Spoo and the job he had done here. I have a lot of respect for him and what he done for their program. EIU did the right thing by honoring him for all that he accomplished.
TSU WR CALVIN MCNAIRL
On the road victory
I think we had a lot of players that won’t give up. We knew that we can win this game. We knew that we had to settle in and play our type of game.
TSU LB RICO COUNCIL
On the road victory
It took everything we had to win today. This was a good win for us. Every time you lose, you’ve got to learn from it. We knew we couldn’t make the same mistakes we made at Eastern Kentucky. We used that game as motivation to get over that hump today.