By Ryan Alves
Despite Eastern’s flurry of comeback punches in the second half, the University of Louisville outlasted the Colonels 23-13, Saturday afternoon at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Eastern’s defense didn’t allow a Louisville first down in the first 12 minutes, squandered an opportunity to take an early three-point lead when Logan O’Connor missed 43-yard field goal wide right on the second drive of the game.
Both teams were held scoreless in the first quarter.
When the second quarter started so did the Cardinal offense. Bilal Powell capped off a 75 yard, nine play drive with a two-yard rushing score. Louisville 7-0.
Midway through the second quarter The Colonels, backed up in their own end zone, were called for a holding penalty, which resulted in a safety for Louisville and a 9-0 lead.
The Cardinals increased their lead to 16 with 3:12 to go in the half, when Adam Froman connected with Douglas Beaumont on a 42-yard play action pass down the seam. The pass was Beaumont’s first touchdown of his college career. Beaumont went 106 receptions without a TD
Powell scored again, with just 38 seconds to go in the half after a three-yard rush. Powell rushed for 95 yards on 16 carries for the game.
Eastern trailed 23-0 at the half but transformed into that pesky underdog fighter who takes the knockout blows and shrugs them off in the second half.
“This team will never quit,” junior cornerback Jeremy Caldwell said. “It doesn’t matter how bad we’re getting beat you won’t ever see us give up. We’re always gonna fight until the end.”
Caldwell, who played sparingly in week one while recuperating from a sports hernia, sparked the Maroon comeback with five minutes to go in the third when he jumped an out route and took the interception back 80 yards for the score.
“Man, I was just itching to get out there and play,” Caldwell said. “It killed me last week to be there and know I couldn’t play. I enjoyed it a lot.”
And late in fourth quarter, when most of the Cardinal fans were vacating their seats and heading for the exits, Eastern got the break they needed.
Louisville’s Darius Ashley was called for roughing the kicker, which gave the Colonels an automatic first down. The Colonels this time took advantage.
With backup quarterback Brendon Gregory taking over for T.J. Pryor who was pulled in third quarter due to a strained groin, Eastern got a 41-yard burst of energy from sophomore Matt Denham down the left sideline. This set up the Colonels first offensive touchdown of the season, a one-yard pass from Gregory to running back Kyle Lumpkin.
Eastern elected to go for the two-point conversion to try and pull within eight points of the Cards but the conversion failed due to a offensive pass interference penalty. Eastern recovered the ensuing onside kick but the upset hopes were quieted when Gregory was intercepted by Ashley.
Penalties were the proverbial equalizer.
Eastern was flagged on the opening kick-off, which they recovered after making the decision to go onside to start the game. The costly ones came on the safety, the two-point conversion and on two other plays that would have been third down conversions. The Colonels were penalized 14 times for 97 yards total.
“It sure was a killer right off the bat in the beginning of the game,” Coach Dean Hood said. “We were off sides and there were a ton of situations where it looked like we were going to make a big play and it wouldn’t go our way and we would get a penalty.”
Despite the loss, the second half produced many small victories that Hood and his team were proud of. Eastern shut down the Cardinals offense, only allowing 98 total yards in the second half compared to the 290 they piled up in the first.
Offensively the Colonels finished with 230 yards, 131 coming in the second half. They were able to run the ball effectively gaining 92 yards total. Eastern only rushed for 35 yards last week.
But the biggest positive in Coach Hood’s eyes was his team’s effort and resilience.
“I felt good as far as the kids never giving up,” Hood said. “At times it looked like they could have shut us out, and it not have been a football game. But our kids hung in there and kept battling and kept fighting.