By Jonathan Stark
Eastern Kentucky picked up its biggest win of the season Saturday when it knocked off 16th ranked Eastern Illinois (3-3, OVC 2-1). The Colonels’ win earned them much respect as they are now ranked 23rd in the Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA). Eastern (4-2, 3-0), won its third straight game with the help of five field goals and two Alan Holland passing touchdowns.
The game of the top two OVC teams went down to the wire. In the final minutes, the Panthers were an onside kick recovery away from having the chance to win the game.
Despite trailing at times in the first half, the Colonels were able to control the game. For the first time this season Eastern won the time of possession and, as it turned out, a few minutes may have made all the difference.
After a fumble recovery by Eastern on EIU’s opening drive, Junior Taylor Long booted a 21-yard field goal, the first of his four, to give Eastern a 3-0 lead.
Eastern is plus 12 in the turnover margin and depend on it as a key component to its defense.
“We talked about it as a secondary by ourselves and then we talked about it with the whole defense,” senior defensive back Derrick Huff said. “We wanted to start it off with a turnover right away, on the first series. And we got one.”
Long was called into action on the Colonels’ next possession, where he nailed a field goal from 32 yards out.
Eastern Illinois got on the board early in the second quarter with a two-play, 57-yard touchdown drive to take the lead at 7-6.
Long took the field for a third time a few drives later to attempt a game long 34-yard field goal. He continued his perfection and regained the Eastern lead 9-7.
EIU quickly struck again to cover the field in two plays and score another touchdown.
The Colonels finally managed to put together a touchdown drive of its own with less than three minutes remaining in the half. Holland completed seven of his eight passes, and, with 40 seconds left in the half, he rolled out of the pocket to avoid pressure and found Quinton Williams in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
“When I first saw him (Williams), he was open,” Holland said. “He was coming back across. I was trying to put it up high enough so that only he could catch it. I think when I ended up getting hit it ended up being lower than what I wanted, but he caught it and made a great play.”
Eastern failed on the two-point conversion, but took a 15-14 lead to the locker room at the half.
On Eastern’s opening drive of the second half, Logan O’Conner was brought in to attempt a 44-yard field goal. His kick was good and Eastern extended the lead to 18-14.
Long kicked another field goal later in the quarter to make Eastern’s lead seven.
In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Colonels’ defense made a stand at the goal line, halting an eight-play drive by the Panthers. EIU was held out of the end zone and missed a 20-yard chip shot.
EIU missed two field goals in the second half.
After the missed field goal, Eastern drove 80 yards on eight plays, ending the drive with a touchdown. At the EIU 47-yard line, Holland found himself being rushed by the defense once again.
“I told those offensive linemen, that this is the drive right here. This could decide our season right here,” Holland said.
He avoided the sack and passed to Kyle Barber, who had slipped past the defense. After the catch, it was a race for the end zone and Eastern expanded the lead to 28-14.
With a minute and a half remaining, Eastern Illinois cut the lead in half with a touchdown of its own. Its three-minute drive of almost the entire field (90 yards) put them an onside kick away from tying the game and perhaps winning it.
Eastern Illinois recovered the onside kick with time to score, the first time. But a penalty on the play forced EIU to re-kick. This time Eastern recovered the ball and ran out the clock.
Taylor Long was a perfect 4-4 kicking field goals and moves to 9-9 on the season. Allan Holland was 30-44, 321 yards and had two touchdowns. Both Long and Holland were named OVC Players of the Week.
Holland’s performance also earned him recognition from College Sporting News. He was one of five national players of the week in the Football Championship Series. Holland’s 321 passing yards were career and OVC-season highs. Holland has only thrown one interception this season (137 passing attempts) and has not thrown one in any of the five games he has started.
Kyle Barber caught eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
Bobby Washington had 11 carries for 38 yards.
For the third time this year Eastern did not commit any turnovers.
Eastern now sits atop the OVC standings at 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference.
Saturday, #23 Eastern Kentucky hosts Southeast Missouri State (2-3, 0-2) at 3 p.m. for Hall of Fame Weekend.