Eastern Illinois made things difficult for No. 15 Southeast Missouri, but in the end the Ohio Valley Conference frontrunning-Redhawks pulled out a 26-12 win.
EIU held a 7-6 halftime lead, but the Panthers surrendered 20 second-half points (often on short fields).
"I really felt that at all times we were in the football game," EIU head coach Adam Cushing said in the postgame.
The win allowed SEMO (8-3, 6-1) to clinch at least a share of the OVC title. The Redhawks nailed down their second straight eight-win season. SEMO is tied atop the league standings with Austin Peay, Eastern's opponent next week.
After winning its first game of the season last week, Eastern dropped to 1-10 overall and 1-6 in the OVC.
The Redhawks beat the Panthers in Charleston for the first time since 2010, ending a four-game losing streak at O'Brien Field.
Here are three things we learned from EIU's loss:
1. Special teams turned the tide.
Followers of EIU have seen their share of special teams mistakes the past few seasons. Saturday proved to be another example.
SEMO's Shabari Davis returned Stone Galloway's punt 36 yards for a touchdown to put the Redhawks ahead, 13-7, with 13:03 remaining in the third quarter. It was the Redhawks first punt return for a touchdown in four years.
SEMO tacked on 13 more points in the fourth quarter to finish off the Panthers.
A 48-yard kickoff return by SEMO's Zion Custis gave the Redhawks excellent field position before quarterback Daniel Santacaterina's touchdown made it a 20-10 game. Santacaterina — a Geneva (Ill.) native and Northern Illinois transfer — scored on a one-yard run to finish off a nine-play, 31-yard drive.
"We didn’t play well enough on special teams to win this football game," Cushing said.
2. An early injury forced EIU to play its inexperience backup QBs
Eastern starting quarterback Harry Woodbery sustained what appeared to be an injury to his right shoulder at the end of the first quarter.
As a result, the Panthers played inexperienced backups Jaylon Banks and Jonah O'Brien the rest of the way.
Woodbery, a junior, spent the remainder of the game on the sideline with his arm in a sling. Woodbery completed 6-of-9 of his passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Banks — a redshirt sophomore from Oswego East High School — took over for Woodbery following the injury, but was replaced by O'Brien after a few unsuccessful series.
It was the first playing time for O’Brien, a true freshman who spent his first three years of high school in Wisconsin before his family relocated to Bartlett (Ill.) for his final prep year.
O’Brien completed 12-of-21 passes for 84 yards and threw a late-game interception.
Receiver Isaiah Hill caught 13 balls for 152 yards and a touchdown. It was Hill's second double-figured receptions game this season and second time he has been over the 100-yard mark.
Tight end James Sheehan finished with 27 yards receiving, becoming the 33rd EIU player to pass the 1,000 yard mark for career receiving yards.
3. Plays that weren't made also cost the Panthers.
Trailing 13-7 late in the third quarter, EIU appeared on the verge of grabbing the lead. After a five-yard run by O'Brien and a targeting call against SEMO, the Panthers were first-and-goal on the Redhawk four.
Banks replaced the then-injured O'Brien and freshman Jaelin Benefield took a snap from the wildcat for a one-yard gain. The next play saw senior Darshon McCullough — who had rushed for a career-best 155 yards last week — stopped for no gain. To make matters worse, McCullough fumbled and although Eastern's Nick Stricker recovered the loose ball, it set EIU back to SEMO 11.
Thus, Eastern had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Christiaan Masucci.
The ensuing kickoff return set up SEMO's touchdown for its 20-10 lead.
The Panthers' next possession showed promise as EIU moved the ball to the SEMO 42. Facing a 4th-and-1, Benefield again lined up in the wildcat. However, the true freshman fumbled the snap and was dropped for a three-yard loss that turned the ball over on downs.