Nashville, Tenn. - Tennessee State University Football will end the 2009 season when they head to Charleston, Ill. to face the top team in the league, Eastern Illinois. The Ohio Valley Conference match-up is scheduled to be broadcasted live on ESPNU on Thursday, Nov. 19, at O'Brien Field. Kick-off is slated for 5:30 p.m.
The Tigers are behind EIU in the series record with the Panthers holding the advantage, 7-5. In their last meeting, TSU upended EIU in the confines of LP Field, 45-24. Last season's win snapped a four-game losing streak to EIU. The last time TSU defeated EIU in Charleston was 1998, 27-21.
Last year, the Tigers jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead and was led by Javarris Williams and Brandon Belvin. Williams caught and rushed for two scores on the day amassing 150 yards of total offense. For his efforts, Williams moved to the top of the career rushing touchdown list with 42. Belvin caught four receptions, three for touchdowns, totaling 85 yards. Punter, Taylor Cisneros, etched his name in the record books with the longest punt in a game in school histroy, 62 yards.
The Tigers (3-7, 2-4) are nursing a four-game skid after defeating top ranked Eastern Kentucky (10/10). In their last outing, TSU dropped a 24-21 decision to Austin Peay State. The Tigers give up their first loss to APSU since the Governors rejoined the conference in 2007. The last time TSU fell to APSU was back in 1995, 28-6. In the teams' last three meetings, a field goal or less separated the final score.
Offensively, the Tigers finished with a season high 293 yards but could not convert on third downs, moving the chains once out of ten attempts. Several Tigers posted career marks with Travis James, Ronald Bright, and Marquez Wilkens each catching their first touchdown reception. Quarterback Calvin McNairl led TSU to three scores and was 17-of-23 passing for 189 yards with three touchdowns, while rushing for 42 yards to account for 231 yards of total offense.
On defense, TSU surrendered 301 total yards including a season high, 201 rushing yards. John Jones Jr., led defensively with 10 tackles.
The Tigers' offense on the season is tallying 14 points and 269 yards of total offense per game. Their bright spot has come courtesy of an offensive line that has seen a different line-up in every game, giving up a league best, 10 sacks.
McNairl continues to power the attack coming off a career perfromance against APSU. He leads the team in rushing (5.2 yards/carry, 63 yards/game), passing (87 yards/game), scoring (5 TDs) and total offense (157 yards/game). Currently, McNairl has accounted for 12 touchdowns, completing 69-of-131 passes with eight interceptions while throwing for seven scores.
A host of Tigers spearhead the league's third ranked defense that is giving up a little over 300 yards and 19.8 points per game. John Jones, Jr. leads in tackles with 68 and Rodney Fritz knots a team best in sacks with five. Eugene Clifford and Anthony Levine both have managed two interceptions with Clifford answering two for Touchdowns to go along with 56 tackles.
For the Panthers (8-2, 6-1), a win over the Tigers will give them sole possession of the OVC Championship and an automatic bid to the FCS play-offs. The Panthers are riding a four-game win streak and have already clinched a share of the conference crown.
The Panthers only two losses of the season come back-to-back to the hands of then ranked No. 18 in the FCS, Eastern Kentucky, 36-31 (10/3) and Penn State, then ranked No. 12 in the BCS, 52-3 (10/10).
Offensively, EIU ranks in the top five of 31 team categories in the conference. The Panthers are averaging 334.2 yards/game and are first in the league in rushing defense (113 yards/game). They rank second in the OVC in scoring offense (26.5 points/game), scoring defense (18.6 points/game), and total defense (298.6 yards/game).
The Panthers on offense are led by quarterback Jake Christensen and OVC preseason selection Chaz Millard. Christensen has thrown for 2, 042 yards from 162-of-260 passing, throwing 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Christensen was named OVC Player of the Week twice (9/6 and 11/15) sharing the award last week in the Panthers 49-13 win over UT-Martin.
The Panthers responded with 35 unanswered points rolling up 457 yards of total offense. Christensen completed 18-of-21 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Christensen currently ranks 18th nationally in passing efficiency (145.74).
On defense, EIU is holding opponents below 19 points per game and 300 yards of offense. Defensive back CJ James was named OVC Co-Defensive Player of the Week after returning an interception for a 79-yard touchdown last week. He help leads the defense with linebacker Nick Nasti and defensive lineman Perry Burge.
On the year, James ranks third in the OVC in interceptions with five for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Nasti, in eight games played, leads EIU with 60 tackles (7.5 per/game) and one interception. Burge has a team best and is ranked in the OVC top five in sacks with five solo.
EIU has notched the OVC best special teams' duo behind kicker Austin Signor and punter Kevin Cook. Signor is perfect in point-after-attempts connecting all 32 and is 13-of-19 (68 percent) when kicking field goals, scoring 71 points on the year. Cook is the conference's best punter averaging 41.4 yards per punt and booting a season best of 60 yards.
With a win or loss, the Tigers will encounter their fifth losing season in six years. It will also be the fifth losing season after posting a winning record the previous year.