Charleston, Illinois --Tennessee State saved the best for last, as they dominated the thirteenth ranked Panthers of Eastern Illinois 21-10 in Charleston, Illinois on national television.
The Big Blue rolled up a season-best 311 yards in Total Offense (176 rush, 135 pass) while shutting down the Eastern Kentucky passing attack, that averaged 205 yards a game, to just 149 yards with three interceptions.
The Tiger defense set the tone for the night in the first half holding the Panthers to 101 yards of Total Offense with 19 yards rushing and 82 yards passing. EIU managed a 3-0 lead at the half on a 20 yard FG with 2:23 remaining.
Tigers punted on that possession, but on the next series QB Calvin McNairl engineered an eight-play 73 yard drive for a touchdown, moving the Tigers ahead 7-3 at 3:39, with a 1-yard plunge. TSU took possession near the end of the third quarter (0:55) and drove 87 yards in five plays to score another touchdown with 13:44 remaining in the game on a 3-yard TD pass from McNairl to Ronald Bright for a 14-3 lead. The key play on that drive came when McNairl rolled right and found Joseph Hills open downfield for a 77-yard gain, the longest single play of the season for TSU.
Eastern Illinois fought back to engineer a 7-play 62 yard drive to close the score to 14-10 with 10:11 remaining. The Tigers responded, in kind, with a 6-play, 55 yard drive for the final dagger of a 21-10 lead with 6:57 remaining. Donte Thomas scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on a 10-yard run.
The remainder of the game, TSU’s defense dominated, with Rico Council picking off EIU for the second time in the game (6:31) and the Big Blue defense stopping EIU on downs (2:22). The Panthers tried to mount a final drive with 0:56 remaining, but Ty'Ron Johnson picked off his second interception of the night with 0:33 remaining. TSU was able to run out the clock for the upset win.
In a true team defensive effort, Ty'Ron Johnson and Donte'e Nicholls were credited with five tackles each (4 solo) and five other Tigers chipped in four tackles each. Kalvin Baker ends his TSU career with 2 sacks (11) and 1 forced fumble. Six Tigers had pass break-ups, four had QB hurries and Rodney Fritz and a crucial blocked Field Goal at 7:03 of the third quarter.
Following the game, Coach James Webster called the team to the middle of the field to tell them goodbye, as he informed them that he was resigning as TSU's head football coach. He thanked them all, for sending him out a winner.