Eastern Illinois held a two-point halftime lead Saturday on the road at Southeast Missouri State. Then came the second-half kickoff and everything about the game changed.
SEMO’s Sabari Davis returned that kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown to begin the Redhawks’ surge. When that onslaught ended, SEMO had scored 31 second-half points and posted a 38-15 pasting of the Panthers.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been doing the last three weeks, playing a good first half, playing complimentary football,” EIU head coach Adam Cushing said afterward. “But we haven’t come out in the second half and played all that consistently and that’s what happened again today.”
The victory lifted SEMO’s record to 3-6 overall and 3-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. EIU stands at 1-8 overall and 1-3 in the league.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from Saturday’s game.
- The kickoff return was only the beginning of the end
The tide-turning special teams play opened the door to a 17-point quarter for SEMO.
The Redhawks added a field and a touchdown and built a 24-9 lead.
The kickoff return for a touchdown was SEMO’s first in three years. Ironically, the Redhawks last kick return for a touchdown also came against EIU (Nov. 17, 2018).
“We got beat in all phases,” Cushing said. “We didn’t do a good job offensively in the second half playing complimentary football (and) giving the defense some rest.”
2. Explosive plays really do make a difference
SEMO used big plays throughout the second half, and not just on the kickoff return.
The Redhawks scored on a 24-yard run by quarterback CJ Ogbonna and then the SEMO signal caller threw TD passes of 33 and 23 yards.
SEMO averaged 6.1 yards per play; EIU 4.8 per play. The Redhawks were 6-for-13 on third down; the Panthers were 7-for-20.
3. EIU’s Isaiah Hill returns to form
Eastern receiver Isaiah Hill missed the entire spring OVC-only season with injuries. Saturday’s game was only the third appearance this fall for the redshirt junior from Shorewood. Hill made the most of it.
Hill, who prepped at Minooka High School, caught 11 passes for 207 yards and a 16-yard touchdown catch. Hill also scored EIU’s first TD with a 5-yard run.
“Isaiah makes an enormous difference in the offense as evidenced by the plays he makes out there,” Cushing said.
News and notes
There was only one turnover in the game. EIU freshman safety Jordan Vincent set up the Panthers’ first score of the game by stripping the ball away from a SEMO receiver and returning it deep into Redhawks territory . . . Vincent added eight tackles to his forced fumble and recovery . . . EIU linebacker Jason Johnson led all tacklers with 14 stops . . . freshman quarterback Otto Kuhns was 14-of-30 passing for 211 yards and the touchdown to Hill. Kuhns was sacked twice . . . fellow freshman Zach Weir was 3-of-8 passing for 64 yards. Weir was sacked once . . . Stone Galloway drilled a 41-yard field goal with 6:31 remaining in the half as EIU lead 9-7 at the halftime break . . . SEMO running back Geno Hess, a Peoria native, led all rushers with 107 yards.
EIU plays at Austin Peay Saturday, Oct. 6. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.