Eastern Illinois appeared on the verge of a statement victory over a Football Bowl Subdivison opponent.
With 1:06 remaining and coming out of a timeout with the ball resting on the Miami seven-yard line, the Panthers lined up three receivers to the right side and then brought Dennis Turner in motion to the left.
Panther quarterback Mitch Kimble dropped back and looked downfield. Calmly, the redshirt junior turned and threw a swing pass to running back Devin Church. The play was well set up and was destined for a postivie gain, perhaps even the go-ahead touchdown.
But the pass slipped right through Church's hands and fell to the Yager Stadium turf.
The incompletion brought up third down with the ball still spotted on the Miami seven yard-line and 56.3 seconds left on the clock.
Undaunted, EIU offensive coordinator Greg Stevens came back with a similar play. This time, the Panthers set up with two receivers to left outside the hashmarks and a pair to the right, one inside the hashmarks and the other wide.
On take two, Kimble again dropped back and looked into the end zone where his receivers pulled the defensive backs. Again he turned and dumped the ball off to Church in the left flat. Given a reprieve, Church gathered in the pass and turned upfield. The senior running back picked up a key block from reserve offensive lineman Kurtis Brummerstedt and sprinted into the end zone with what proved to be the winning score.
Nick Bruno's extra point meant that a Miami field goal couldn't force overtime.
Earlier on the game-winning drive, a key penalty and player disqualification greatly aided the Panthers.
With 1:12 remaining and the ball on the Miami 18, Kimble threw an incomplete pass to the end zone over the head of receiver Paul Gossage. However, a roughing-the-passer with targeting penalty on Miami defensive lineman JT Jones advanced the ball to the RedHawk 9-yard line. Jones was also disqualified from the game for the hit.
EIU benefitted from another key set of penalties with 4:42 left in the game and EIU trailing 17-7.
On a third-and-eight from the Miami 11-yard line, Kimble threw an incomplete pass in Gossage's direction. Yet, a pass interference call placed the ball on the RedHawk two. In addition, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Miami head coach Chuck Martin moved the ball to the one.
Three plays later on a third-and-goal, Kimble found Turner over the middle for a touchdown at the 3:57 mark.
Penalties severely hampered Miami. The RedHawks were flagged 12 times for 89 yards. Eastern had just three penalties for 39 yards.
Offensive Line Makeover
With 2:29 left, EIU starting center Louis Vailopa left the game with an injury.
Junior Austin Akin moved from guard to center and Brummerstedt took Akin's spot. Brummerstedt, listed as a 6-foot-7 and 305 pound redshirt junior, has primarily played on special teams his first two seasons at Eastern.
Third Down Difference
Though each team registered 22 first downs, the game turned on third-down conversions.
While Miami was 5-for-12 on third down, EIU went 9-for-15. The Panthers converted 9 of their last 11 third down plays.
Final Defensive Stand
After taking the 21-17 lead, Bruno's squib kick left Miami starting from its own 24-yard line.
A potential big-gaining pass play fell incompete when EIU safety Bradley Dewberry tipped the ball. Defensive lineman Jarvis Williams recorded a sack and the game's final tackle of Miami quarterback Billy Bahl. Time ran out before the RedHawks could line up for one final shot at a miraculous finish.
Kimble completed 19-of-32 passes for 150 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The redshirt junior also ran for 49 yards.
Kimble, who played his high school football at downstate Jerseyville before signing with Syracuse, is coming off a surgery that shaved a bone spur in his back.
The game was originally scheduled for a 3:30 Eastern Time Zone kickoff. However, persistent lightening forced the teams and fans to endure a delay of two hours and 45 minutes.
Both teams actually took the field to warmup just before 5:00 local time, but another lightening strike sent them back to the locker rooms.
EIU vs. the FBS
Saturday's victory was the sixth over an FBS program in EIU history.
Previously, the Panthers had scored wins over Akron (1989), Western Michigan (1996), Northern Illinois (1998), Eastern Michigan (2004) and San Diego State (2013).
EIU is 6-33 all-time against FBS opponents. Five of the six win have come over current Mid-American Conference members.
EIU (1-1) travels to Normal to play Illinois State (2-0) in the Mid-America Classic. ISU upset Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday.