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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee State returns to the friendly confines of Nissan Stadium after spending five weeks on the road. The Tigers will celebrate Homecoming 2015 against Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Illinois. The game will mark the 85th Tennessee State Homecoming. TSU enters with a homecoming record of 65-14-5, including a 27-7 win over Florida A&M in 2014.
TSU (3-2, 0-2) will face EIU (2-3, 2-0) will face-off for the fifth time in the Tigers annual celebratory event. Kick-off is set for 6:00 p.m. and will be nationally televised on the American Sports Network. Jeff McCarragher will handle play-by-play duties while Michael Young, will provide analysis. The game can be heard on WVOL 1470-AM with Greg Pogue (play-by-play), Albert Dawson (analyst) and Gary Dawson (sideline) can. The pregame show will begin at 5:30 p.m.
The Panthers have spoiled the festivities three of the four encounters, including the last two meetings, a 34-16 victory in 2013 and won a 31-28 overtime meeting in 2010. The lone Tigers win on Homecoming versus the Panthers came in 2003 by a score of 24-14.
Overall, the two teams have played 18 times with EIU holding an 11-7 advantage. The Tigers first met the Panthers in the NCAA playoffs, a 20-19 victory in 1982. TSU also won the first OVC matchup, 27-21, in 1998. EIU has won the last three games including an NCAA Second Round meeting in 2013.
EIU claimed the 2014 meeting in Charleston, Ill., 28-3. The game was a defensive battle as the Panthers held a 7-0 lead at the break. Darion Hall took the second half kickoff 44 yards to the TSU 48 giving the Tigers great field position. The Big Blue used seven plays to move 27 yards setting up a Lane Clark 42-yard field goal to get on the board and cut the score to 7-3.
The Panthers would close out the game by forcing three turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown to extend their lead to 14-3. EIU would also rely on its run game as they rushed for 294 yards on the day, including scoring runs of 67 and 50 in the final stanza to provide the final score.
The Tigers were outgained 370-287, but were able to gain the advantage in the passing game, 180-76. Michael German and Ronald Butler each saw action and combined to complete 19 passes on 32 attempts.
Hall led TSU in rushing with 63 yards on 10 carries, ahead of Tom Smith who ran for 35 yards on 14 touches.
Weldon Garlington was the top target for the Tiger quarterbacks with five receptions for 59 yards. Isaiah Freeman and Ryan Mitchell each pulled down four balls for 39 and 30 yards, respectively.
The Panthers were powered by Shepard Little and Jalen Whitlow on the ground. Little averaged 10.8 yards on 12 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown. Whitlow crossed the goal line once and added 91 yards on 12 rushes.
Defensively, TSU was led by Nick Thrasher and Mike West who each registered 10 tackles. West recorded two of those tackles for loss, adding up to seven yards. Samquan Evans picked up the lone sack for the Tigers, good for a nine yard loss and added a quarterback hurry.
The Tigers enter this year’s contest after completing a 2-2 road trip after falling 28-14 at UT Martin last week. O’Shay Ackerman-Carter, Ronald Butler and Nate McGill have all seen time behind center. Ackerman-Carter has served as the starter in four games, while Butler stepped in at Jacksonville State. Ackerman-Carter has completed 57.1 percent (52-of-91) of his passes for 653 yards, five touchdowns against two interceptions. Butler has played in four contests with a 54 percent (27-of-50) completion rate amassing 466 yards and five touchdowns, while tossing three picks. McGill filled in for Butler on four plays at Jacksonville State.
Butler has been listed as the backup for all three of his seasons with the Tigers. Due to injuries and suspensions, Butler has played in 23 games of the Tigers 31 during the time period. The junior has started 11 games, eight as a freshman, twice as a sophomore and once as a junior. The Tigers are 7-4 in the games the Tallahassee, Fla. native has started, including 3-0 versus Florida A&M.
Red-shirt sophomore Patrick Smith has caught a scoring pass in each of his first five games as a Tiger. The wide receiver pulled in two touchdown catches at FAMU and has six on the year, the second highest in the OVC and seventh in the country. Smith is the first Tiger to score in five consecutive games since Trabis Ward in 2012 and is the first in recent memory to open his career with a five game streak.
Smith leads all TSU receivers with 482 yards on 23 catches, averaging 21.0 yards per reception and 96.4 yards per game.
Chris Collins has started the last three games in place of an injured Justin North and leads the defense with 44 tackles, 18 solo. The sophomore linebacker collected his first career interception during the third quarter at UT Martin. Van Williams trails only Collins in tackles, but tops the Tigers with 5.5 tackles for loss.
The Panthers are led by Kim Dameron, who is in his second season as a head coach, both at EIU. Dameron is 7-10 in his young career. Eastern Illinois opened the season with losses to Western Illinois, FBS opponent Northwestern and Illinois State, ranked fifth in FCS. The Panthers are on a two game winning streak with back-to-back OVC wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri.
Whitlow has totaled over 1,000 yards in 2015, 934 through the air and 207 on the grounds. The quarterback is 77-of-142 and has tossed six touchdowns and six interceptions. Whitlow has called his own number 69 times and averages 41.4 yards per game. Devin Church is a double threat for the Panthers leading the team in rushing, carrying the ball 69 times for 357 yards, and receiving, 15 catches for 123 yards.
Isaiah Nelson and Anthony Taylor bring another pair of receivers with double-digit receptions. Nelson has caught 14 passes for 266 yards to go along with Taylor’s 12 catches for 132 yards. Both wide-outs have scored in 2015.
Defensively, Seth McDonald leads EIU with 50 tackles, 20 solo’s, has forced a fumble and recorded an interception. Kamu Gruiger-Hill tops the squad with 7.5 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. As a team, the Panthers have forced seven fumbles and picked off three passes.