All playoff chances are likely out of question as the UTM football team suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Eastern Illinois Panthers 23-21 on Senior Day.
The Skyhawks (6-4, 5-2 Ohio Valley Conference) were looking to not only secure second place in the OVC standings, but also trying to clinch an FCS playoff spot for the first time since 2006. After Saturday’s loss, it looks like neither will be possible for the Skyhawks this season.
The Skyhawks managed to take on the first points of the ballgame with a 32-yard Jackson Redditt field goal midway through the first quarter.
EIU managed to recover and march the ball down the field on their next drive and took a 7-3 lead after a Shepard Little 5-yard touchdown run. The EIU special teams came up big on the next drive when they blocked a UTM punt in the back of the end zone. The ball trickled out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 9-3 EIU lead.
However, UTM was able to retake the lead on the first play of the second quarter when quarterback Jarod Neal completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rod Wright, giving the Skyhawks a 10-9 lead
After missing a 37-yard field goal attempt and a UTM turnover on the ensuing drives, EIU jumped back on top midway through the second quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Devin Church, giving the Panthers a 16-10 lead. UTM trimmed the deficit to four points before halftime when they forced a safety. The Skyhawks found themselves trailing 16-12 when they went to the locker room at halftime.
The Skyhawk defense stepped up big in the second half as the manage to hold EIU’s defense scoreless. The offense, however, had a lot of trouble getting past the tough Panther defense.
Jackson Redditt’s 21-yard field goal was the only points UTM managed to put up in the third quarter.
The Skyhawks were looking to move the football down the field on their first drive of the fourth quarter, but the drive was disrupted when Neal threw an interception to EIU defensive lineman Thomas Coronado, who returned it 45-yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Skyhawks marched back down the field and scored another touchdown on a Ladevin Fair 5-yard run. Trailing 23-21, the Skyhawks went for the two-point conversion to tie the football game, but were unsuccessful on the try.
EIU managed to drain a lot of the clock before giving the ball back to UTM. The Skyhawks had one last opportunity to drive down the field and score the potential game-winning points, but on the very first play of the drive, Neal threw an interception to EIU defender Jourdan Wickliffe, sealing the 23-21 Panther win.
UTM quarterback Neal finished the day completing 30 of his 49 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown, but threw four costly interceptions, one of those in the end zone. Fair was UTM’s leading running back, carrying the ball nine times for 27-yards and one touchdown. Although UTM receiver William Tanner did not record a touchdown, he led the team in receiving yards with 103 off of eight catches.
EIU quarterback Jalen Whitlow was both the leading passer and rusher in the football game for the Panthers. Whitlow completed eight of his 18 passes for 80 yards and two interceptions and ran the football 13 times for 142 yards.
Overall, the Skyhawks finished with 403 yards of total offense (EIU had 276), converted 24 first downs (EIU had 15) and went 10-18 on third down conversions (EIU went 10-18). But the Skyhawk’s four turnovers and EIU’s 14 points off of turnovers was the difference in the game.
After the game, UTM head coach Jason Simpson had this to say about his team’s performance.
“Our kids played hard – that was a football game with two good teams and something had to break,” Simpson said. “I was impressed and proud of our defense. I thought we gave ourselves a chance but we just didn’t match Eastern Illinois. They won the battle today.”
UTM will conclude their season next Saturday, Nov. 21 when they take on Southeast Missouri State. Kickoff between the Skyhawks and the Redhawks will start at 1 p.m. from Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Photo Courtesy of UTM Sports Information