CHARLESTON — As Eastern Illinois football coach Kim Dameron put it in the postgame press conference, it was just another day in Panther football.
Coming into the game, all five of EIU’s wins have been by three points or less, and the Panthers had two overtime wins.
Make it all six wins are by three points or less after Saturday’s game against Eastern Kentucky.
Down 20-13 with 36 seconds left, EIU went 67 yards in four plays and scored when Alexander Hollins hauled in Scotty Gilkey Jr.'s 26-yard pass in the end zone as the Panthers tied the game at 20 to send it to overtime.
EIU then got a career-long 45-yard field goal by freshman Matt Severino, and senior Bradley Dewberry came up with his second game-winning interception of the season as the Panthers defeated EKU 23-20 for their third overtime win of the season.
“That’s the way this game is. I just gotta say, these kids never give up. That’s why we’ve won so many close football games,” Dameron said. “We’ve been saying this all year long, we just give God the glory and keep going. We are just thankful that we had one more second, one more play and we had guys step up and make plays.”
Dewberry had two interceptions in the game, and both came to prevent an EKU score. It’s also his second interception that prevented a game-winning score this season. Against Southeast Missouri State, Dewberry intercepted a pass in the end zone with only a few seconds remaining as EIU went on to win.
Dewberry read the play right away.
“We were in a rock 'n' roll situation, which is what we call it when I have to come over the field,” Dewberry said. “I saw the No. 2 receiver roll out and I saw (Iziah) Gulley, the safety, try and take him. I saw the quarterback glance that way and I just ran that way. I was on my man and I turned my head and the ball was right there. So I caught it.”
Earlier in the game, Severino hit a 44-yard field goal to tie the game at 10, which was a career-long field goal for the true freshman. Dameron called on him again in overtime, and he connected on a new career-long goal, this time 45 yards, to put EIU up 23-20. Severino hasn’t missed a kick in overtime this season.
“This is the same kid that in the very first game against Indiana State, I didn’t take him on the trip. Nick Bruno pulls his hamstring in pregame. I had to call (Matt) and tell him to get his gear and get over in time for kickoff,” Dameron said. “As he has progressed, he has taken over the kicking job, and it’s because he does it in practice. He just went out and did what he’s been doing. He’s just worked his fanny off. He’s a great kid and I am sure glad that we got him.
“Thanks to Matt Severino, he kicked 100 percent, unbelievable. Clutch kicks.”
The overtime period was possible because EIU drove down the field in about 30 seconds to tie the game. Gilkey hit Dennis Turner for a 19-yard pass to the EKU 48-yard line but was tackled inbounds. The next pass was incomplete and then Gilkey hit Aaron Gooch in the middle of the field. Gooch ran toward the sideline and got 22 yards to the EKU 26 with 9 seconds remaining.
“He’s smart, he has great character and puts team above self, and he just does what you tell him to do,” Dameron said. “He was told to get all he could but get out of bounds and then make sure we have time to throw the last one and he did it. I can’t say enough good things about what that kid means to this team.”
Then Gilkey threw toward the back of the end zone. Hollins was in front of two EKU defenders, jumped up and came down with the ball for the touchdown with 1 second remaining.
“We work on that in practice. It’s funny, I talked to (offensive coordinator Greg) Stevens after the game and he said the guys always wonder why we work on these last three practices of the game,” Dameron said. “Now they know.”
EIU scored right away to start the game. Gilkey hit Hollins for a 62-yard reception down to the 2-yard line, and Gilkey scored two plays later from 1 yard out for a 7-0 lead.
EKU came right back down, and Daryl McCleskey Jr. rushed five times for 48 yards and scored on a 14-yard run to tie the game at 14. EKU rushed for 48 yards on the first drive, but they only had 16 yards rushing for the rest of the game.
“They threw something new at us, and we didn’t think they would have that type of blocking style,” EIU linebacker Nick Horne said. “We just went to the sideline, changed things up and like the whole season, we aren’t letting people run on us.”
EKU went up 10-7 on a 34-yard field goal by Lucas Williams. Then a 44-yarder by Severino tied the game at 10 with 1:31 left in the first half.
Then Williams hit a 37-yard field goal early in the third quarter and Severino again hit a 33-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 with 22 seconds left in the quarter.
EKU took the lead with 37 seconds left when McCleskey scored on a 5-yard run.
“I tried to let them score with 1:28 left, but some of our guys didn’t get the message and tackled him,” Dameron said with a chuckle. “That’s my fault. But it worked out.”
EIU came back with the touchdown to Hollins with 1 second left, Severino hit the 45-yard field goal in overtime and Dewberry’s interception improved EIU’s record to 6-4 on the season and 5-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference.