By Jonathan Stark
It was a tale of two halves on Saturday when Eastern played Western for the very last time in Roy Kidd Stadium.The first half had the Colonels keeping pace and at some times outplaying the Hilltoppers to a 16-13 Western lead at the half.
The second half was a complete debacle as Eastern (0-2, 0-0 OVC) was outscored 21-0 and fell 37-13 for their second straight loss to start the season.
Western (1-1) moved down the field on their first possession, utilizing its ground game. Hilltopper quarterback K.J. Black and running back Tyrell Hayden rushed for a combined 43 yards in the 81-yard drive. Marell Booker ran the ball in from the 4-yard line for a touchdown. After the extra point, Western led 7-0.
Eastern had a short field on their first drive after the kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Colonels the ball on their own 40-yard line. Quarterback Allan Holland completed five of six passes before the drive stalled at the Hilltoppers’ 29-yard line.
Senior Taylor Long was brought on to attempt a 46-yard field goal, which he booted straight through the uprights. Western then led 7-3.
Western suffered a major loss on its next drive when, after a 6-yard rush by Black, he went down with an apparent arm injury. Black would go to the locker room holding his left arm. Western reported that he suffered a separated shoulder and will be out two to three weeks. He was replaced by senior backup quarterback David Wolke.
“If you get the starting quarterback to go out, that’s always a good thing,” Hood said. “The bad news is David Wolke is a good football player.”
Despite the injury, the Hilltoppers kept inching toward Eastern’s goal line. Three plays into the second quarter, Hayden ran the ball in from 1 yard out and Western took a 13-3 lead. The extra point was missed wide left.
Holland continued to pass the ball well on Eastern’s second drive. The Colonels picked up 37 yards on a pass over the middle of the field to Stephon Fuqua. After two more pass plays of over 15 yards, Eastern was down to the Western 6-yard line. Holland showed some moves on the ground as he ran the ball in for a touchdown and cut the lead to 13-10 after the extra point.
Western’s backup Wolke struggled on his first full drive, only completing one pass. Western made up for his problems with the ground game. They moved the ball down to Eastern’s 31, and Tanner Siewert made a 48-yard field goal to push the lead to 16-10.
The passing game continued to be successful for the Colonels as they moved the ball through the air down to the Western 24; Long hit a 41-yard field goal to make it 16-13.
“We were moving the ball; we just didn’t get in the end zone,” Holland said. “We need to find ways to score. That comes back to haunt us later on in the game.”
The Colonels and Hilltoppers would punt the ball back and forth on their next possessions.
With 32 seconds left in the half, Western moved the ball down to Eastern’s 28. Chris Harris blocked Siewert’s 45-yard attempt and the first half ended. Harris blocked an extra point in the Colonels’ first game against Cincinnati.
Going into halftime, the momentum was on Eastern’s side. Western had lost its dual threat quarterback; Eastern had just scored and blocked a field goal. Holland was having one of the best games in his career. And the Eastern crowd was thriving.
“I felt like we had momentum,” senior defensive lineman Chris Coy said.
The second half opened with the Colonels punting, the Hilltoppers punting it back and the Colonels punting the ball again.
On Western’s second possession of the second half, Wolke appeared to have found his touch. He orchestrated a Hilltopper drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown run by Derrius Brooks. Western took a 23-13 lead with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, any momentum Eastern still had was lost as Fuqua fumbled the return at Eastern’s own 19. Hilltopper Chris Franklin recovered the fumble at the Colonel 20.
Western ran the ball down to the 3-yard line before the quarter ended. Wolke found Tristan Jones in the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-13 lead to open the fourth quarter.
Eastern would punt on its next possession only to be given the ball back via punt.
The Colonels would go for it on fourth-and-10 on the Western 31 during their next drive. Holland was sacked and Eastern turned the ball over on downs.
“It got to the point to where they could blitz and do anything against us because they knew we had to throw the football late in the game,” Holland said.
The teams traded punts one last time.
Western started to move the ball on the ground again, ending a 10-play, 51-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey. The Hilltoppers took a 37-13 lead.
“The last drive, they just ran it down our throats,” Hood said.
Eastern’s last drive consisted of four incomplete passes by Holland.
“The game turned and it got ugly and we had to throw,” Hood said.
Western would run out the last 10 seconds by taking a knee.
“In the second half, we kind of self-destructed as a team,” Coy said. “I don’t believe we came out flat as a team; I just don’t think we played our style of football.”
The Hilltoppers racked up 248 rushing yards, while Eastern only netted 20. The Colonels did outpass Western 228 yards to 134 yards.
“Hats off to them; they got a good football team,” Hood said. “They made plays; we didn’t make as many plays. We had a lot of missed tackles; they tackled better than we did and it came down to execution. They executed their offense and we didn’t execute ours. They played a better football game than we did.”
Eastern had the ball for less than five minutes in each of the first and fourth quarters.
Stephen Sizemore was the Colonels’ leading receiver with eight catches for 67 yards. Tyjuan Jones led the Eastern defense with 17 tackles, seven of which were solo.
Saturday, the Hilltoppers travel to Tucaloosa, Ala. to face the Crimson Tide of No. 11 Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC).
The Colonels remain at home Saturday to welcome back long-time rival Morehead State (1-1, 0-0 Pioneer Football League).