Young QBs the focus as Eastern prepares to wrap up season

Young QBs the focus as Eastern prepares to wrap up season
Eastern Illinois closes out its season with a road game at Austin Peay Saturday. (photo courtesy

Adam Cushing and his staff will get a glimpse at the future or at least find out what it has at quarterback when Eastern Illinois closes out its season Saturday at Austin Peay.

With junior quarterback Harry Woodbery out for the season with an injury, EIU turns to a pair of young players — redshirt sophomore Jaylon Banks and true freshman Jonah O'Brien. 

Jonah O'Brien

Jonah O'Brien

"It was really the first action for either of them," Cushing said of the two quarterbacks taking over last Saturday against Southeast Missouri after Woodbery was hurt. "The last time Jonah O'Brien took a snap he was in high school . . . both of those guys went out there without a ton of reps . . . they both did a nice job of managing the game."

Woodbery's season came to an end of the final play of the first quarter, following a 6-for-9 start for 118 yards and a touchdown. Banks went 3-of-5 for five yards while O'Brien completed 12-of-21 throws for 84 yards and touchdown. Each threw an interception in the Panthers' 26-12 loss.

"We always preach around here to prepare like you're the starter, you've got to have the next man up mentality," Cushing said, "and while we expect that, there certainly is a different mentality when you know you're going to be out there taking meaningful snaps."

Banks, who prepped at Oswego East High School, has felt comfortable around the game since he could walk. 

Jaylon Banks

Jaylon Banks

"My father had played college football at Northern Illinois so I had been around it all my life," Banks told Prairie State Pigskin this past summer. "I was able to see him play. A lot of his roommates went on to be coaches—Vincent Reynolds is like an uncle to me. He’s the defensive line coach at Syracuse. P.J. Fleck, one of my dad’s teammates, went on to be the head coach at Western Michigan and now at Minnesota. Travis Moore, he's the defensive ends coach at NIU. These are guys that I’ve known my entire life so I’ve been around college football forever. I was blessed in that way."

What advice did Banks' father give him?

"Well, he was a defensive lineman, so he didn't help me as much as a quarterback," Banks chuckled, "but seriously, my father instilled in me to always be yourself. Be who you are. Don’t try to change or be different just because you’re going on to college. You’ve been yourself all 18 years prior to college so don’t switch up now. Do what got you there. Continue to work hard and be an upstanding person."

Hill provides thrills

Receiver Isaiah Hill was named the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week following his efforts against No. 15 Southeast Missouri.

Hill hauled in 13 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. It was the second time this season that the Minooka High School graduate has caught 13 or more passes this season and finished with 150 or more yards in a game.

This week's opponent

Eastern will play its second nationally ranked opponent in as many weeks. This time around, the Panthers play at No. 19 Austin Peay. The Governors enter the weekend tied with Southeast Missouri for first place in the Ohio Valley Conference standings at 8-3 overall, 6-1 in the league. 

"They don't do anything crazy scheme-wise to try and beat you. Their scheme is really sound, but they just line up and know exactly where they are, where their help is. They're fundamentally sound," Cushing said of the Governors.

What this game means

While Austin Peay is looking to lock up its first-ever bid to the FCS playoffs, Eastern seeks to play the spoiler role and grab its second win in three weeks.

Where can I find the game?

EIU’s 2 p.m. game at Austin Peay on Saturday will air ESPN-Plus. On radio, the broadcast can be heard online at


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