3 things we learned: Nationally ranked UT-Martin pulls away from EIU in second half

EIU head coach Adam Cushing’s Panthers fell 28-17 to UT-Martin Saturday. (Photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

Nationally ranked UT-Martin shut down Eastern Illinois and pulled away in the second half to take control of the Ohio Valley Conference standings with a 28-17 victory Saturday in Charleston.

The Skyhawks scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns — one in the first minute and the other in the waning moments — to grab the win and improve to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the OVC.

EIU dropped to 1-6 overall and 1-2 in the league.

“That was a really good football team that we just played,” EIU head coach Adam Cushing said of UT-Martin, ranked No. 16 in the coaches poll and No. 17 in the STATS Perform media poll.

Three things we learned from Saturday’s result:

  1. A late first-half TD may have turned the tide

Eastern Illinois played well and built a 17-7 second quarter lead.

“Our offense and defense was playing some good complimentary football there in the first half,” Cushing said.

However, UT-Martin used a 12-play drive that used over six minutes on the clock and covered 75 yards to pull within a field goal late in the second quarter.

Zak Wallace’s three-yard touchdown run capped the Skyhawk drive with 1:37 left before half.

2. That momentum carried right into the second half

Though both teams were scoreless in the third quarter, UT-Martin took control in the fourth period.

“We went in at halftime up a few points and they won the second half. They made plays in the second half,” Cushing said.

The Skyhawks took the lead with a nine-play, 82-yard drive that featured four rushes and five passes. UT-Martin capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass.

The Skyhawks put the game away for all intents and purposes by with late drive on a short field following an interception thrown by EIU quarterback Otto Kuhns.

3. Key players returned to the Panther lineup

Eastern has been plagued by injuries all season.

Saturday saw the return of Kuhns at quarterback and a trio of receivers who have all missed time with ailments.

Kuhns — who left EIU’s previous game at Murray State with an injury — completed 13-of-29 passes for 145 yards. He threw for a touchdown but was also threw the costly interception.

The Panthers finally got Isaiah Hill, an honoree on the 2019 OVC Newcomer team, back for the first time in two calendar years. Hill missed the spring season with injuries. The redshirt junior caught two passes for 19 yards Saturday.

Fellow receivers Matt Judd (3 catches for 34 yards) and Xander Richards (1 catch for 24 yards) also were back. Judd also returned one kickoff for 15 yards.

“We were a little bit more healthy and that allowed us to spread the ball around more,” Cushing said.

News & notes

UT-Martin racked up 393 yards in total offense compared to 271 for EIU . . . Third down continues to be an issue for Eastern. The Panthers were just 3-for-15 on the day . . . UT-Martin jumped out to a 7-0 on a blocked punt touchdown . . . Linebacker Jason Johnson — who entered Saturday as the OVC’s leading tackler — led the Panthers with 14 stops . . . UT-Martin’s Zak Wallace rushed 21 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

What’s next

Eastern Illinois hosts Tennessee State for its Homecoming game Saturday, Nov. 23.

Leave a comment