NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee State football team dropped its first Ohio Valley Conference game of the season on Saturday night, falling to Eastern Illinois, 34-16, in front of a homecoming crowd of 22,157.
The Tigers were outgained 567 to 338 in total yardage and committed 13 penalties for 110 yards.
The offense was led by Ronald Butler who was 24-of-45 for 212 yards, two scores and zero interceptions. Lavatiae Kelly was Butler’s main target, setting new career highs with seven catches for 69 yards.
Antonio Harper paced the defense with seven stops (four solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
TSU moved the ball to the EIU 48-yard line to open the game, but was forced to punt after failing to convert a third-and-one. The Panthers took advantage on their turn by scoring a 61-yard passing touchdown from Jimmy Garoppolo to Keiondre Gober on their third offensive play.
The Big Blue offense rebounded on its next series with a 43-yard field goal by Jamin Godfrey. Tim Broughton set up the kick with runs of 27 and 11 yards. The field goal pulled TSU within four with eight minutes left in the first quarter.
Broughton finished the game with 93 yards on 16 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per touch.
After the quick strikes, neither side scored until the 11:08 mark of the second period. EIU’s Shepard Little took a delayed hand-off up the middle of the field for a 21-yard touchdown, making the score 14-3 with EIU on top.
Eastern Illinois struck again after a TSU three-and-out, marching 66 yards down the field in 2:18. Garoppolo found a wide-open Jeff LePak for the 34-yard scoring toss.
The Tigers had one more chance to put up some points before halftime as Butler completed five-of-nine passes for 53 yards on the Tigers’ final drive of the quarter. However, his last two attempts fell incomplete, and Godfrey’s 41-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
On the final play of the half, Garoppolo threw a Hail Mary that was caught by LePak at the one-yard line. LePak was brought down immediately by David Van Dyke, ending the last-ditch EIU effort and leaving the score 21-3 in favor of the Panthers.
The third quarter started with three-and-outs by both teams, but EIU found the end zone on its second possession of the half when Garoppolo hit Gober with a 29-yard streak. The toss put the Panthers up, 28-3, at the 11:30 mark.
Later in the period, TSU had a golden opportunity to score a touchdown at the EIU nine-yard line, but Butler mishandled the snap. EIU fell on the ball giving the Panthers the football with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
Eastern Illinois used short runs to drive to the TSU 43, but Bernell Brooks ended that possession with an interception at the Tiger 14-yard line.
Bernell’s second pick of the year kept TSU’s takeaway streak alive; the team has now forced a turnover in 22 straight contests.
This time, TSU found the end zone after Butler hit Weldon Garlington with an 11-yard pass-and-catch to make the score, 28-10. Butler had runs of six and 20 yards to key the drive.
The Panthers answered right back with a touchdown drive of their own. Little ran the ball six times for 38 yards on the series, but Garoppolo ended it with a 25-yard dart to LePak. The point after was no good, but EIU still claimed a commanding, 34-10, lead.
Garoppolo finished with 410 yards on 24-of-41 passing and four touchdowns.
Still, Tennessee State would not quit, as Butler threw passes of 17 and 25 yards before hitting Dantwaun O’Neal with a 25-yard touchdown. Godfrey could not add the point after, but the score cut the EIU lead to 18 with five minutes to go in the game.
The Tigers will try to regroup next Saturday when the squad travels to Eastern Kentucky for a noon kickoff.