CHARLESTON, Ill. --- Tennessee State started out fast, but host Eastern Illinois roared back with a big second quarter and then sealed the game with a fourth-quarter punt return on the way to handing the Tigers a 34-24 Ohio Valley Conference defeat Saturday afternoon.
The contest was played in a brisk wind and the Tigers were able to build a 17-7 lead after the opening period. However, EIU was able to come back behind a strong running game and took advantage of TSU miscues on the way to the win.
The Tigers also received a blow when starting quarterback Riley Walker went out of the game with a knee and ankle injury in the first quarter. Richard Hartman came on in relief, followed by Bryson Rosser who had started the first five games of the season.
TSU was limited to 214 yards total offense. All-American running back Charles Anthony was limited to less than 100 yards in the game for the second time this season and for only the third time the past two years. Anthony gained 73 yards on 22 attempts. Rosser was 13-24-0 for 136 yards and was sacked four times. Walker was 6-9-0 for 56 yards before his injury. His status will be day-to-day for next week's homecoming game with Southeast Missouri.
EIU's rushing attack was led by the tailback tandem of Vincent Webb and Ademola Adeniji. Webb rushed for 88 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Backup Adeniji had 80 yards, also on 17 carries.
The Panthers finished the game with 178 yards on the ground and 145 through the air for 323 yards of total offense. The Panthers longest scoring drive of the game was 56 yards, 52 coming on the TD play in the opening period.
The Tigers got on the board early as freshman Dominic Rodgers picked up a fumble at the EIU 2-yard line and returned it into the end zone to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead just 1:49 into the game.
EIU answered for its first score of the game on a big play as quarterback Matt Schabert threw to Ryan Voss who broke several tackles en route to a 52-yard scoring play.
TSU drove 60 yards setting the stage for a 23-yard field goal by Joey Hudak. The TSU special teams then came up with the next score as Rodger blocked a Tom Schofield punt and Eric Francis picked up the ball and returned it 21 yards for a score with 2:35 remaining.
With the wind at its back in the second quarter, EIU reeled off 17 unanswered points to take a 24-17 halftime lead. Steve Kuehn started the streak with a 23-yard field goal. Following a TSU fumble at its own 15-yard line, the Panthers scored in three plays on a 2-yard Webb run. The second TSU turnover led the way to the Panthers carrying a lead into halftime. Webb scored on the first play after Tristin Burge intercepted a pass and returned the football to the Tigers 26-yard line.
After a scoreless third period, the Panthers took advantage of a short punt into the wind on the next-to-last play of the third period. EIU took over at the TSU 23-yard line, but was only able to convert a field goal on the opportunity, a 27-yard kick by Kuehn to expand the lead to 27-17 at the 12:37 mark of the fourth period.
The Panthers' Jermaine Mobley, after being hit trying to field a punt, picked the ball up and broke through the Tiger defenders down the sideline for an 80-yard punt return to give EIU a 34-17 lead near the 11-minute mark.
TSU's first points since the opening half came in the fourth quarter. The Tigers marched 68 yards in 12 plays, keyed by a 23-yard run by Anthony to the EIU 3-yard line. Anthony scored on a 1-yard run and after Hudak's PAT, TSU had closed the gap to 34-24 with 5:56 left.
The Tigers had one more opportunity to score, but was held on downs at the EIU 30 with under a minute to play.
Tennessee State's 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter was the first time that the Tigers had led after the opening period since they held a 14-7 advantage in the first game of the season against Alabama A&M. TSU had been involved in scoreless ties after the first period against Tennessee-Martin, Jackson State, and Florida A&M and had trailed in contests against South Carolina State, Jacksonville State, and Samford.
The first quarter 23-yard field goal by Joey Hudak was his first of the season and his first covering eight games dating back to the 2003 season. His previous 3-pointer was 21 yards against Eastern Kentucky.
EIU's fourth quarter punt return for a touchdown was the second return for a score against TSU this season. Jackson State had a punt return and a kickoff return for scores in the Southern Heritage Classic, but TSU came back in the final seconds to win 21-20.
TSU's 214 yards of total offense comes after the Tigers had gained 487 and 501 yards in their previous two outings.
TSU and Eastern Illinois are all tied in their series at 4-4.
TSU returns home to host Southeast Missouri next saturday for Homecoming 2004 in the Coliseum.