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In what we called the OVC Game of the Year, the defending OVC champions dominated Eastern Kentucky forcing four turnovers in a dominating 42-7 win at O’Brien Field.
Don’t call the game a blowout however because Eastern Illinois Head Coach Dino Babers doesn’t see it as that when a reporter call it that and Babers stopped the question with a “Did you call it that?” “They matched us touchdown for touchdown in the second half.” That is the mind of the perfectionist that roams the sidelines in Charleston.
The Panthers would see two OVC records fall as Jimmy Garoppolo would cement himself at the top of the conference’s touchdown and passing yards list. Garoppolo would break both records with sophomore wide receiver Keinodre Gober who he found in the first quarter for a 30 yard touchdown to give him touchdown number 86. In the second quarter, Garoppolo would find Gober on a fourth down conversion to break the OVC passing mark.
The first half was simple, EIU offense as good as advertised, and EKU’s dismal offense showed up once again as EIU would hold a 360-123 offensive yards advantage.
The Panthers offense would get started on their second possession of the game and wouldn’t be stopped for the rest of the half getting into Colonel territory every drive. Garoppolo would toss a touchdown to to Jeff LePak to make it 21-0 after a Taylor Duncan scoring drive. Babers would go into his bag of tricks and let Lora throw for a touchdown, finding Ryan Meyer for the Panthers third offensive touchdown.
“The defense would not be moved,” Babers said. The Panthers starting defense held the Colonels to just 92 yard on 28 carries. Junior DB Adam Gristick said the gameplan was a simple one. “We knew coming into the game this team had ball security issues so we preached all week to go after the ball.”
The Colonels first possession was their best of the half, but would end with Jared McClain getting picked off after Devin Borders popped the ball into the air. The Colonels would follow up the drive with a deep running lane for J.J. Jude would be stripped by junior DB Adam Gristick. Panthers would force three straight three and outs after allowing the Colonels to have two deep drives into the Panther redzone.
The turnovers would reappear for the Colonels after a quarterback change to Kyle Romano. Just like McClain, a tipped ball by a receiver would end up in the hands of the Panthers defense. The Colonels would try and regain some momentum after Lora fell on a route and picked off Garoppolo. On the ensuing drive, and McClain’s (final) play, he would be forced out of the pocket and stripped for a 70 yard fumbled recovery for a touchdown.
The second half wouldn’t get much better for the Colonels who would make a quarterback change in the second half going with Romano.Midway through the third quarter, the redshirt freshman would get injured forcing McClain back into the game.
The Panthers would make short work after the injury, with Garoppolo tossing his third touchdown on the day to Gober to make the score 42-0. That would be the end of the first team of both teams as the fourth quarter would see EKU avoid being shutout for the first time in seven years as Caleb Watkins would score from three yards out with three minutes left in the contest.
The one area that EKU was able to dominated the Panthers was where we expected, special teams. Borders would block a field goal in both the first and third quarters, along with an EKU player deflecting a punt.
The Panthers now get some much needed rest according to Babers as the team has gone through their toughest five game stretch to open a season. “We need a break.” Babers said. “I need a break from the players, the players need a break from me. I need a break from my coaches and the other coaches definitely need a break from me. Hopefully my wife doesn’t need a break from me.”
The Colonels will look to rebound next week at home as they host Austin Peay, who is coming off their bye week.