MACOMB, Ill. (via EIU Athletics) – On a night where the hot and humid weather could have been the winner, Western Illinois beat No. 25 Eastern Illinois 33-5 in the season opener for both teams and first meeting in the long series since the 2002 FCS playoffs.
The game opened with a pair of turnovers as both squads had first drive jitters. Western Illinois turned the ball over as Dino Fanti sacked Leathernecks quarterback Trenton Norvell forcing a fumble recovered by Thomas Coronado.
EIU would drive down to the WIU three yard line when the ball was fumbled at the line of scrimmage ending a potential EIU touchdown. That was the first of three first half turnovers for the Panthers.
The Panthers would get on the board first on their third drive as Nick Bruno connected on 33-yard field goal with 3 minutes left in the first quarter. WIU immediately responded as Lance Lenoir had a big kickoff return setting up the Leathernecks at the 25-yard line. Lenoir hauled in a 19-yard touchdown from Norvell three plays later.
WIU’s second score came with 5:32 left in the half after a long field miss was negated by a roughing the kicker penalty. Devon Moore scored from 1-yard out to give WIU a 14-3 lead at the break.
The second half opened with EIU’s fourth turnover of the game as Eddy Holtschlag forced a fumble. EIU’s defense held as Nathan Knuffman knocked home a 24-yard field goal with 13:30 to go in the third to put WIU up 17-3.
Seth McDonald made a goal line stop for the Panthers stripping the ball and recovering the fumble at the ten yard line. WIU was able to stall the EIU drive after a couple of first downs halting the Panthers momentum. Former EIU basketball player Dylan Chatman ended the next WIU drive with an interception in the end zone.
The Panthers fifth turnover of the night proved costly as Brett Taylor intercepted the ball at the 42 yard line and returned it for a touchdown with 2:59 left in the third quarter. Vince Speller blocked the extra point with Bradley Dewberry picking it up and returning it for a two-point conversion as WIU led 23-5.
Lenoir set up the Leathernecks final score of the third quarter with a punt return ending inside the EIU 10 yard line. WIU scored on a 4-yard run up the middle by Moore pushing the lead to 30-5 with :54 seconds left in the third. Moore finished the night with 33 yards.
WIU tacked on a 26-yard field goal by Knuffman early in the fourth.
EIU has 14 penalties in the game which played a part in the night’s outcome as EIU had 308 yards on offense. It marked the first time since October 2009 at Penn State that EIU failed to score a touchdown, a streak of 65 straight games. The Panthers return to action on Sept. 12 at Northwestern.
McDonald led the defense with 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Devin Church had a team high six receptions while Isaiah Nelson had three catches for 69 yards.
Lenoir had 280 all-purpose yards for WIU. Xavier Rowe, Aaron Diggs, Quentin Moon led the Leathernecks with seven tackles.