The SIU football team had a rough night Thursday in its season opener as it fell to Eastern Illinois University in a game where the two teams combined for 10 turnovers and 23 penalties.
Both teams started slow, as the Panthers were content to throw screen passes for short gains and the Salukis looked to work the run game with senior running back Steven Strother.
Eastern scored the game’s first points on a lateral to wide receiver Sam Hendricks, which he passed downfield to fellow receiver Chavar Watkins. The Saluki defense jumped to make a play on Hendricks, and Watkins was able to slide behind and find the end zone.
Following the touchdown, the Saluki offense suffered a pair of gaffs as junior quarterback Kory Faulkner threw interceptions on back-to-back passes.
The scoreboard remained unchanged after the turnovers, though, as the Panthers couldn’t manage another score for several drives, partly because of big tackles by senior linebacker Jayson Dimanche and junior cornerback Terrell Wilson.
A string of penalties by Eastern progressed the ball for the Salukis, who took advantage with a six-yard run by junior running back Mika’il McCall with three minutes and 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
The second quarter was highlighted by even more trickery from Eastern as the Panthers fooled the Saluki defense with a quarterback punt that stopped at the one-yard line.
McCall fumbled on the proceeding play and gave the ball back to the Panthers, which led to a touchdown pass and a 14-7 Eastern lead.
The SIU offense returned fire on the next drive as Faulkner tossed a screen pass to McCall, who didn’t stop until he reached pay dirt 74 yards downfield.
EIU scored on back-to-back drives following SIU’s touchdown as quarterback Jimmy Garappolo completed passes to receivers Jake Walker and Chris Wright, the latter a 50-yard bomb down the left sideline.
The Saluki defense had trouble throughout the game, slowing Eastern after SIU scored. Each time the Salukis would tie the game, the Panthers answered.
After trading punts, Faulkner and the Saluki offense found a rhythm, as passes to junior John Lantz and senior David Lewis brought SIU to Eastern’s 25-yard line.
A few plays later, a roughing the passer penalty put the ball on the three-yard line. Faulkner targeted sophomore MyCole Pruitt twice in the end zone to no avail. His third attempt to the 6’3’’ tight end hit home, which brought the Salukis within a touchdown, at 28-21, to end the half.
The Salukis received the kickoff to start the second half and went to McCall immediately. After 24 yards on two carries in the drive, the Iowa transfer ran a six-yard touchdown in to tie the game 28-28. It was McCall’s third score of the night.
A quick slant pass from Garoppolo to receiver Erik Lora on the following drive gave the lead back to the Panthers 35-28.
After a Saluki drive stalled, Eastern answered with another receiver lateral to Lora who passed the ball downfield to another receiver, this time Chris Wright. Though Wright wasn’t wide open like Watkins the first time, he made the catch nonetheless for a 42-28 lead.
After the Salukis fumbled a punt with just more than two minutes left to play in the third, the Panthers capitalized with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo to Hendricks on the next play, taking a 49-28 lead and the final score.