CHARLESTON -- It was almost fitting how Saturday's game between Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky ended on Saturday. With EIU holding a 23-20 lead in overtime, EKU tried for the win on its first possession after the Panthers' field goal. Tim Boyle threw a pass to a wide receiver streaking down the right sideline. Boyle didn't see one thing, though.
EIU senior defensive back Bradley Dewberry read the play perfectly and rolled over in coverage. He read Boyle's eyes and Boyle didn't see Dewberry roll over. Before the pass could get to the receiver, Dewberry jumped up and made the interception, which sealed EIU's 23-20 win on Senior Day. It was fitting that a senior helped clinch the win for the other 20 seniors on Saturday.
For coach Kim Dameron, a good amount of those seniors, like Dewberry, were part of his first recruiting class at EIU.
"That's a special thing for me that these guys were able to finish off with a win here at home," Dameron said. "They've meant everything to this program. They've been leaders since they were freshmen, especially guys like Dewberry. We've got a lot of seniors who have put in a lot of time and effort here, in this room and out there. I couldn't be more proud for them and their parents. They have a story to tell their grandkids 30, 40 years from now."
Getting the game-clinching interception on Senior Day was an unexplainable feeling, Dewberry said.
"Of course, for the seniors, I am glad we are leaving our mark with a W with our last home game," Dewberry said. "But winning all together, that's something we all take pride in and we look forward to it with all of the hard work we put in each week."
At one point, Dewberry wasn't even going to be a defensive back. He was originally going to accept an offer to play quarterback at Western Carolina when Dameron's staff swooped in and convinced him to be a defensive back at EIU. Dewberry has been a key piece in EIU's secondary since he was a freshman and has two game-clinching interceptions this season.
However, Dameron said he's come close to breaking a promise with Dewberry during his career.
"I don't normally tell on myself, but when we were recruiting Brad, we told him we wanted him to play safety, but we do this wildcat quarterback thing and he was a heck of a quarterback in high school," Dameron said. "But I don't think he's ever taken a snap as a wildcat quarterback, so I may have to get him one (against Austin Peay) just to tell him I didn't lie to him. What a fantastic young man. Great person, great student and great things happen to good people."
Senior linebacker Nick Horne said EIU decided to keep Dewberry as a defensive back.
"I seen his high school video (at quarterback), he was a killer," Horne joked. "I am glad we have him on defense. Me and him, we have the same playing style, we love making big plays. It's just a thing we love to do. He holds me accountable in many ways throughout the season. The weight room, the running. He doesn't lax on me and I don't lax on him."
Dameron said the fight that Dewberry and the other seniors showed was key and it gave the team confidence to make the comeback from seven points down with 37 seconds left. The Panthers went 67 yards in four plays and the touchdown helped send the game to overtime. Matt Severino's career-long 45-yard field goal to open the extra period proved to be the difference.
"All the underclassmen, they wanted so bad for these guys because of the sacrifice (the seniors) have put in," Dameron said. "I can't say enough about how much I appreciate them, this whole senior class and the whole team. This senior class will always go down as a special one for me."
The win, which gives the Panthers a 6-4 record, guarantees EIU its third straight winning season. It's the longest stretch of consecutive winning seasons since 2005-07.
Dewberry said this winning stretch is something he and the rest of the seniors take pride in and he hopes the winning mentality continues to catch on with the underclassmen.
"When I first came here, that was something the leaders in front of me took pride in, so that's something you just have to build on, especially to be a great program that you strive to be," Dewberry said.
Horne said it means everything to go out at home with a win and he was happy to see his best friend make the game-clinching interception.
"Me and Dewberry have been playing on the same side for a while now. Me and him, we always say, it's always time to make a play," Horne said. "We want to make the big play, we don't want to back down from it. We step up to the plate and do what we have to do."
Now the next step for this senior class, after its season-finale at Austin Peay on Nov. 18, is to move on to their careers, whether it's preparing for a shot at the NFL or moving on to careers in their field of study.
Dewberry and Horne are two of the seniors who think they have a chance to hopefully land on an NFL roster.
"We both strive to do the same thing in life and hopefully play at the next level," Dewberry said. "So we will be in touch still to train and get ready so we can be at the top."