CHARLESTON, ILL. — Trailing by as many as 21 points in the second quarter, the Tennessee State football team stormed all the way back to earn a hard-fought 41-40 road victory over Eastern Illinois on Saturday at O’Brien Field in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams.
Saturday marked the first win for TSU (2-0, 1-0 OVC) over EIU (0-4, 0-1 OVC) since the 2011 season.
TSU took its first lead of the game with 7:31 to go in the fourth quarter when Demry Croft hit DeVon Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown pass for a 35-34 advantage.
After EIU responded with a touchdown just over a minute later, Earl Harrison capped a TSU drive with what proved to be the game-winning four-yard touchdown run with 3:06 left in the fourth.
On EIU’s final possession, Justin Culpepper blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt to preserve the victory.
- TSU outgained EIU in total yards, 544-466
- The Tigers finished with 349 yards passing and 195 yards rushing
- The defense held EIU to 73 yards rushing, marking the second time the Tigers opponents did not amass 100 yards on the ground
- TSU totaled 31 first downs, opposed to 20 by EIU
- The defense held Eastern Illinois to 5-of-14 on third down conversions
- The Big Blue recorded eight tackles for loss, including two sacks
- TSU won the Time of Possession battle, 34:55-25:05
- The Tigers finished 6-of-7 in Red Zone Scoring Chances
- The defense had eight pass breakups on the day
- Demry Croft started for the second consecutive game
- Micheal Hughes played in five series throughout the game
- Croft went 14-of-20 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and an interception
- The junior transfer added 56 yards on eight carries
- Hughes completed 13-of-21 for 114 yards
- Treon Harris threw one pass, good for an 18 yard touchdown
- It marked the first scoring pass by Harris since Sept. 17 of last year versus Florida A&M
- Chris Rowland led the Tigers with eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown
- The eight catches is a new career high
- Rowland recorded the longest punt return of his career, going for 42 yards
- The juniors tallied 124 all-purpose yards
- DeVon Johnson added 72 yards on three receptions, one going for a 49 yard score
- Harris made an impact as a receiver, hauling in three passes for 51 yards and a touchdown
- The TSU quarterbacks targeted nine separate receivers
- Te’kendrick Roberson led all runners with 73 yards on 15 carries
- Roberson added 33 yards on four catches, giving him 106 total yards for the game
- Earl Harrison and DeMarco Corbin each rushed for a touchdown
- Harrison finished with 56 yards on eight rushes, while Corbin rushed eight times for 28 yards
- Christion Abercrombie led the Tigers with eight tackles
- Dajour Nesbeth and Vincent Sellers followed with seven
- Nesbeth led with seven solo stops
- Mekhi Brown and Justin Culpepper notched 2.0 tackles for loss
- Brown and Jeremiah Caine recorded a sack
- Dante’ Ferguson registered three quarter back hurries and recovered a fumble
- Brown picked up his first forced fumble
- Nesbeth was credited with four pass breakups
- Antonio Zita scored 11 points, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 2-for-2 on extra points
- The 11 points is tied for seventh all-time at TSU for points by a kicker in a single game
- EIU took advantage of good field position, traveling 34 yards on 10 plays to take a 3-0 lead
- The Panthers scored 20 seconds later after a fumble recovery on the kick return.
- The Tigers surrendered their first touchdown of the season at 7:26 of the first quarter.
- The Big Blue turned the ball over for the second time in the first quarter, leading to EIU’s second touchdown.
- The two turnovers were the first two of the season by the Tigers and the first ones forced by EIU in four games.
- The Tigers outgained the Panthers 105-102 in the first quarter.
- The Tigers opened the second quarter with a 37 yard field goal by Antonio Zita.
- The kick cut the Panthers lead to 17-3.
- EIU needed less than two minutes to cross the goal line, taking a 24-3 lead on a 71 yard touchdown pass.
- The Tigers put together its longest drive of the game, using 14 plays to move 53 yards.
- TSU settled for a 36-yard field goal by Zita, making the score 24-6 with 6:13 remaining in the half.
- Chris Rowland tried to spark the Tigers with a 43 yard punt return to the Panthers 32.
- The Tigers fell victim to their third turnover of the half at the EIU 12, halting a potential scoring drive.
- The two teams traded a pair of five play drives, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 24 with 30 seconds remaining.
- On EIUs first play, Mekhi Brown came around the left side and knocked the ball out of the hands of the Panther quarterback.
- Dante’ Ferguson came up with the ball giving the Tigers the ball at the EIU 18.
- TSU struck on the first play as Treon Harris took a handoff from Demry Croft and sprinted to the right where he pulled up and tossed an 18 yard scoring pass to Chris Rowland.
- Zita converted the extra point, allowing TSU to enter the locker room trailing 24-13.
- The Tigers outgained the Panthers, 227-220 in the first half.
- TSU had the ball for 17:43 of the first 30 minutes.
- DeVon Johnson took the second half kickoff 51 yards to give the Tigers a short field, starting at the EIU 47.
- DeMarco Corbin crashed through the line for a two yard touchdown run, making it a one possession game, 24-19.
- The game continued to go back and forth as the Panthers needed just five plays to cross the goal line, increasing the lead to 31-19.
- The Tigers followed by producing the longest touchdown drive of the game, needing 2:39 to produce a 30 yard scoring connection from Croft to Harris.
- The Tigers continued to outgain EIU through three quarters, 378-349.
- The Tiger defense held strong, forcing EIU to attempt a 48-yard field goal.
- Panther kicker Nick Bruno split the uprights for a career long three-pointer, to create an eight point gap, 34-26, with 11:55 remaining in the contest.
- Croft returned as quarterback of the drive and hit Steven Newbold for 13 yards, as well as Miles Cavitt for 17 yards, to move deep into EIU territory.
- Zita came on and connected on his third field goal of the game, a 37 yarder, bringing the Tigers back within five.
- After a defensive stop, Croft went over the top and found DeVon Johnson down the left sideline for a 49 yard strike.
- The Tigers took their first lead of the game with 7:31 remaining.
- On a 3rd and eight at their own 28, EIU connected on their second 70-plus yard touchdown pass, to regain the advantage.
- Once again, the Tigers answered, traveling 65 yards on 10 plays as Earl Harrison finished off the drive with a four yard touchdown run.
- TSU missed their third two-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 41-40 with 3:06 to go in regulation.
- The Tigers secured the win on a blocked field goal attempt by Justin Culpepper.
- Tennessee State was playing its first game since the Sept. 1 win over Bethune-Cookman in the John Merritt Classic to open the season. The last two games for TSU had been cancelled due to weather concerns.
- TSU captains were Micheal Hughes, Demry Croft, Thomas Burton and LaQuarius Cook.
- TSU won the coin toss and deferred to the second half.
- Tennessee State entered the game receiving votes in the STATS Top 25.
- The Tigers are 18-26 in road games under Head Coach Rod Reed.
- The Big Blue defeated EIU for the first time since 2011, a one point win in Charleston, 18-17.
- TSU is 9-14 in the all-time series versus Eastern Illinois.
- The Tigers have produced 500-plus yards in back-to-back games since the final two games of the 2014 season.
- Antonio Zita has scored 21 points in his first two games as a Tiger.
- Zita is a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals and 6-for-6 on extra points.
- Saturday’s game streamed live on ESPN+.
The Tigers will return to Nashville for a non-conference tussle with SEC opponent, Vanderbilt. Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m. at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 29.