By Jonathan Stark
The last time Eastern went 4-0 to start conference play, the year was 1997 and Coach Roy Kidd was still at the helm. Eastern went undefeated in the conference, won the OVC and made it to the I-AA playoffs. The chances of 1997’s results repeating improved dramatically Saturday with Eastern’s 44-17 win over Southeast Missouri (2-4, 0-3).Allan Holland broke his personal high passing yards per game for the third straight week. Holland completed 23 of 39 passes for 361 yards; he also continues his streak of starts with out an interception, now at six.
“The offensive-line did a good job protecting; we were able to exploit the passing game,” Holland said. “The receivers and I are getting on the same page.”
Eastern (5-2, 4-0) put up a total 501 yards of offense, 140 of which were on the ground. Although their passing yards dwarfed their rushing yards, all the Colonels’ touchdowns were rushing. Bobby Washington and Mark Dunn each ran for two touchdowns, and Aaron Bradley and Holland each ran for one.
Eastern was down seven early off a SEMO rushing touchdown.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” said senior wide receiver Quinton Williams. “They’re a hard-playing group; they always play us well.” Williams caught four passes for 93 yards.
The Colonels tied it up with a rushing touchdown of their own as Dunn ran the ball in from five yards out. Holland’s longest pass of the game, 57 yards, was to Garnett Phelps, the big gain set up Eastern’s second score as Dunn rushed for another touchdown to take the lead 14-7. Phelps finished with four receptions for 70 yards.
Several drives later, Holland scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak, his third rushing touchdown of the season.
With three minutes left in the half, Long booted a 21-yard field goal to make the score 24-7. Long improves to 10-10 on the season.
Midway through the third quarter, the Eastern defense took a hit to the depth chart as right tackle Chauncey DeBose was ejected for a personal foul. On the same drive, SEMO kicked a 28-yard field goal to close the gap 24-10.
On the Colonels’ ensuing possession, they drove 64 yards. After being stopped at the goal line three times, Eastern called a timeout. Following the timeout, the Eastern offense came out onto the field. Holland handed the ball off to Washington and he leaped over the pile of linemen for a touchdown.
Washington picked up his second touchdown in the fourth quarter on a halfback toss; Washington ran to the outside and into the end zone untouched. SEMO got in on the extra point and blocked it, keeping the score 37-10.
With four minutes left in the game, SEMO put together another touchdown drive.
Late in the fourth quarter, senior Malachi Maxwell intercepted a SEMO pass and returned it 22 yards.
“He’s a tremendous worker,” Hope said of Maxwell. “He’s a guy who comes and gives his best all the time. So, I’m glad to see that he was not only able to get in the game, but to make a big play. Now he is in the record books, forever. Good for him.”
After two years of very little playing time at Cumberland College, Maxwell transferred to Eastern. Earlier in the season he was moved form running back to defensive back.
“Any time I can get in the game it feels good,” Maxwell said. “I just try to go out there and play my hardest, just like I do in practice. I just try to go out there and do my best. But, it felt good.”
And in the final seconds, Eastern’s Bradley ran for a touchdown to make the final 44-17.
The Colonels are now 25-26 (96%) when in the red zone; five different players have gotten at least one interception this year; Eastern has not had a turnover in four of its seven games and is now plus 15 in the turnover margin.
“The statistics are lopsided in some ways, which is an indication we played well,” Hope said. “But, I feel like we didn’t play as well as we could. I’m very happy with the win. Any time you can win by four touchdowns it is something to be very proud of. But, we are always looking to get better and we are striving for perfection.”
The win Saturday moved the Colonels up two spots in The Sports Network’s FCS Football Rankings. They are now ranked 21st.
This week the undefeated Tennessee State Tigers (3-3, 2-0) will try to avenge the 20-3 loss the Colonels handed them in the final week of last season.