Scheduling quirk has EIU facing Ohio Valley Conference foe in non-league road game

DeWayne Cooks (2) is Eastern Illinois’ second-leading receiver with 10 catches. (photo courtesy Sandy King, EIU Athletics)

When two universities left the Ohio Valley Conference this past spring, the fall football schedule had to be reconfigured as teams scrambled to find games to fill those voids.

As a result, Eastern Illinois will play at Murray State Saturday — but the game will not count in the OVC standings. Part of the reasoning according to a league official is that the two schools were already scheduled to meet at Charleston’s O’Brien Field Nov. 20 with Eastern as the home team. That game will count in the league standings.

“We’re approaching every game like we always do,” Murray State head coach Dean Hood said during Tuesday’s OVC Zoom media address. “You can’t approach it any other way.”

EIU head coach Adam Cushing said, “They (Murray State) can run the ball. They’ve got good play-action (passing) off of it. The quarterback (Preston Rice) is dangerous and defensively, they’re physical.”

The Panthers lost at Murray State 41-27 in the conference-only spring schedule.

“Guys always say they want to play in the NFL. Last spring we played on Sunday, so they got a taste of that. Now they get to play the same team twice, that’s what the NFL does within a division, so we’ll give our guys a taste of the NFL,” Hood said.

A look at the Panthers

EIU (1-4 overall, 1-0 in the OVC) is coming off a 28-14 win at Tennessee Tech.

“It was great to finally get into that win column,” Cushing said, “but what was most exciting for everybody in the program was that it wasn’t a party in the street. It wasn’t like ‘oh man, we came away, we won’. We went down there with that expectation and we played as hard as we played all year.”

As is often the case in victory, EIU got strong efforts in all three phases of the game. The offense showed balance with 125 rushing yards and 183 passing yards.

“We went into the game saying that was one of the keys,” Cushing said. “We had to get (freshman running back) Harrison (Bey-Buie) going . . . we said let’s go run the football and that will set up the pass and that’s exactly what happened.”

With Syracuse transfer running back Markenzy Pierre out with an injury, Bey-Buie ran the ball 19 times for 79 yards. He was the only Panther with double-digit carries.

Defensively, the Panthers forced four turnovers and racked up five sacks. The biggest play came when defensive back Bryce Dewbery scooped up a TTU fumble and returned it an EIU-record 90 yards for a touchdown.

Bryce Dewberry

“We joke with Bryce (that) he may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he’s football-fast,” Cushing said. “What you saw on that play was unbelievable effort by (safety) Kaelin Drakeford to run down and kinda shield, that he blocked legally the (TTU) quarterback who was busting his tail and catching up with ‘Dew. That’s what team football is all about.”

Drakeford also collected his first career interception. Meanwhile, linebacker Jason Johnson racked up 16 tackles while Tim Varga (2) and Jordan Miles (3) combined for five sacks.

Miles, who also forced two fumbles and twice hurried the quarterback, was named OVC defensive player of the week.

“We go from being allergic to the quarterback to really stepping up,” Cushing joked in reference to EIU entering the TTU game with only one sack in the first four games.

“It seems like every game you watch, they’re improving,” Hood said of EIU. “You look at their roster and they’ve got a bunch of young guys. The best compliment a coach can give another coach is to say that their football team in fundamentally sound and that they play hard . . . and that’s what I see with Coach Cushing’s teams.”

A look at Murray State

The Racers are coming off a bye week. Murray State began the season with a 35-0 shutout of Mississippi Valley State.

The Racers’ two losses were both to FBS teams — Top 10-ranked Cincinnati (42-7) and Bowling Green (27-10).

“They play hard. They’re well-coached and they’re physical. They’re a recipe for how you win football games,” Cushing said of Murray State.

Where to find the game

Eastern Illinois (1-4, 1-0) at Murray State (1-2) kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2. The game is on ESPN+. The radio broadcast is offered on Charleston-based Hit Mix 88.9 FM.

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