When the Eastern Illinois football team takes the field today for its season finale in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the Panthers will face the Ohio Valley Conference’s biggest surprise.
Southeast Missouri, which was 3-8 the past two seasons, has enjoyed a big turnaround to 7-3 and a No. 23 national ranking. A win against EIU (3-7) today would keep SEMO in line for an at-large FCS playoff berth.
How have the Redhawks taken flight? Quite simply, an offense that ranks eighth nationally in scoring (39.3 points a game) and 24th in total offense (443.5 yards a game) is a major reason for the turnaround.
“They’re more explosive than last year,” EIU senior wide receiver Aaron Gooch said. “That offense has been putting a lot of points up this year, whether it’s been through the air or on the ground.”
The EIU defense faces a stiff test today against SEMO senior running back Marquis Terry, who has 13 TDs on the ground and 1,141 yards.
Junior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, a transfer from Northern Illinois, has thrown for 24 TDs and nearly 2,400 yards.
“We played Northern last year,” Gooch said. “We know (the QB) is pretty good.”
The Panthers are coming off their most complete effort of the season, a 52-21 home win against Austin Peay.
Offensively, EIU should be able to hold its own. The Panthers are averaging 32.5 points a game, and the QB duo of Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery have combined for nearly 3,100 yards and 24 TDs.
The passing game has been aided by a monster season from senior wide receiver Alexander Hollins, who is second in the nation in TD catches (14) and has 75 receptions for 1,003 yards. Last week, he became only the ninth player in EIU history to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
Three key matchups
- EIU rush defense vs. SEMO RB Marquis Terry: The Panthers have struggled against the run, allowing more than 220 yards a game. Terry has piled up 13 TDs and 1,141 yards on the ground.
- SEMO QB Daniel Santacaterina vs. EIU secondary: Santacaterina, a Northern Illinois transfer, has 24 passing TDs, which is just shy of the school record for a single season (29). The Panthers have allowed 26 passing TDs.
- EIU WR Alexander Hollins vs. SEMO secondary: Hollins has been a dynamo this season with 75 receptions, 14 TDs and more than 1,000 receiving yards. SEMO’s defense allows more than 300 passing yards a game and 13.4 yards per catch.
Eastern Illinois (3-7) at No. 23 Southeast Missouri (7-3), 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. Game will air on WEIU-FM and ESPN3.