The Mid-America Classic traveling trophy visited Charleston Saturday afternoon but returned to Normal where it has resided for the past three years.
Illinois State toppled Eastern Illinois 21-3 in front of 6,119 fans to win the 108th bout between the longtime rivals.
“We got the lead and kept it. That was critical,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said afterward. “We’ve got the trophy on the bus and we live to fight another day.”
The win moved ISU to 2-1, while Eastern is 0-3.
The Redbirds have won three straight in the series, three straight in Charleston and five of the last six versus EIU.
ISU leads the all-time series 57-42-9. The series dates back to 1901 and is the oldest FCS series in the state.
Here’s what we learned from the ISU triumph:
1. The Redbirds’ pass rush is potent.
Illinois State recorded eight sacks and held Eastern to just 197 yards of offense. Moreover, the Panthers converted just one third down in 16 attempts.
“They (the defense) played lights out,” Spack said. “That’s who they are, the standard they set.”
Defensive end Romeo McKnight had 2.5 sacks and three tackles-for-loss against a youthful EIU offensive line.
Seven different ISU defenders had at least a half sack.
”When you’ve got a defense like that, you can win a lot of games,” Spack said.
EIU quarterback Jonathan Brantley said, “They were good. They were disciplined, I can tell you that. They were good tacklers.”
2. The Redbirds played the offensive line shuffle.
During the week running up to the game, ISU used four different line combinations in practice.
With senior Gabe Megginson sidelined with an injury, the Redbirds shuffled players in the line to clear running paths and to protect quarterback Brady Davis.
ISU ran the ball on 51 of its 62 offensive plays. The Redbirds rushed for 285 yards and avoided any turnovers.
Backup running back Jeff Proctor ran for a career-best 71 yards on 17 carries.
3. James Robinson found his rhythm.
The senior from Rockford ran for 146 yards on 23 carries. Robinson scored all three Redbird touchdowns, including a 52-yard dash midway through the third quarter.
”That’s a really good offensive line,” EIU head coach Adam Cushing said of the Redbirds, “and a phenomenal running back. I really respect the way those guys run the football.”
Robinson broke the 100-yard mark and scored three times for the second consecutive week.
Illinois State hosts Northern Arizona in its final nonconference game Sept. 21 at Hancock Stadium. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.