The Eastern Michigan University football team opened up their home schedule with a 31-14 loss to the Illinois State Redbirds, which was the first matchup between the two schools since 1981. EMU’s record fell to 0-2 while ISU improved to 2-0.
EMU had their moments, but overall struggled in performance. The offense turned the ball over five times, which put the defense in difficult situations.
“The defense did a good job with the situations they were in, but we need to find a way to be more physical as a team,” EMU coach Ron English said.
The first quarter did not begin the way the Eagles had hoped: Quarterback Alex Gillett was sacked three times along with two turnovers that ended up with a 10-0 Redbird lead. The trouble started after EMU held ISU to a three-and-out and received the punt at midfield, but a personal foul gave the Redbirds a first down.
The problems in the run defense from last week continued three plays later as Jonathan Miller took the hand-off and streaked down the field for a 58-yard touchdown to give the Redbirds an early 7-0 lead.
On the next ISU possession, the Eagles forced another three-and-out, only to cough the ball back up on a muffed punt by Darius Scott, which gave the Redbirds possession in Eagle territory. The defense stood strong and forced a 26-yard field goal by Nick Aussieker to give ISU a 10-0 lead. The first quarter ended with another turnover, as Gillett fumbled while being sacked and the Redbirds recovered at the 23-yard line.
The defense held again at the beginning of the second quarter, stopping ISU on fourth down with one yard to go. Apparently that gave the Eagles momentum, as they gained their next first down since the opening drive. They followed it up with a third down pass from Gillett to running back Bronson Hill, who made a great juggling catch while being blanketed by a defender.
Gillett hit a wide open Garrett Hoskins for a 32-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-7.
After each team traded turnovers, the Eagles scored on a Gillett five-yard touchdown run to give EMU their first lead of the day at 14-10, which stood to the end of the first half.
The Eagles began the second half with a three-and-out haunted by penalties. The Redbirds took advantage of the good field position and drove the ball 67 yards capped off by a 22-yard touchdown pass from Matt Brown to Donovan Harden, to give ISU the lead back at 17-14.
ISU followed up with another touchdown drive, this time a four-yard touchdown run by Darrelynn Dunn to extend the lead to 10. Momentum finally shifted to the Eagles by way of the next drive for Illinois State, after defensive lineman Colton Underwood intercepted a screen pass and took the ball down to the Redbird 34 yard line. EMU was forced to settle for a field goal attempt, but it was blocked.
A Donovan touchdown following an interception by linebacker Mike Zimmer sealed the deal for the Redbirds at 1:08 left in the game for the victory.
“We need to learn how to finish games,” English said. “This is the second straight week we were either tied or leading at halftime and ended up losing big.”
The Eagles go on the road Sept. 15 to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon.