CHARLESTON -- Tennessee Tech had Eastern Illinois’ offense figured out and did a number to quarterback Scotty Gilkey, so EIU coach Kim Dameron made a change at quarterback at halftime for two reasons.
One, he felt the offense needed a spark being down 14-3 at halftime. Two, Gilkey was banged up. So with Mitch Kimble still out with an injury, Dameron turned to third-string quarterback Bud Martin, who was 11-of-24 passing last season with four interceptions and no touchdowns.
Martin looked like a totally different quarterback, though, and completed his first pass to Dennis Turner for 14 yards. His third pass was a 43-yard pass deep down the field that Alexander Hollins caught for a touchdown.
Martin was the spark EIU needed in the game. The redshirt junior, who transferred from Florida International University a year and a half ago, finished the game with 204 yards and three touchdowns, all to Hollins, on 10-of-14 passing to help orchestrate the comeback for EIU as the Panthers won 24-23.
“We needed a spark. (Tech) was selling the farm to stop the run. When Bud’s in game, we throw three touchdown passes,” Dameron said. “It’s like I told (Bud), if you stay patient, if you stay positive and keep working your fanny off, good things happen. When you get the opportunity, you are prepared he was and I am really proud of Bud for that.”
Even with Martin’s heroics, the game came down to Tech’s kicker Nick Madonia, who lined up for a 48-yard game-winning field goal with 10 seconds left. Earlier in the game, Madonia connected on a 51-yard field goal that was into the wind. Madonia came into the game making only 2-of-5 field goals, but hit his first three of the game against EIU.
Madonia’s fourth one was the biggest and his kick sailed wide right and EIU took a knee for the win.
“Boy, 3 feet one way, 3 feet the other way, it’s amazing, I am hopeful that it’s the signature of our year that good things are going to happen when we need them to and we are going to win football games,” Dameron said.
EIU improves to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The three OVC wins have come by a combined seven points and the four wins total by a combined 10 points.
“It doesn’t matter how we start, what matters is we give yourself a chance to win and continue to do that, which is great,” Dameron said. “I would like to not have to bring it down to the last play of the game, but I told the guys last night, you better be prepared for it. In this league, there’s not a team that we can’t beat and any team can beat us."
While Martin had four interceptions in the limited time he saw last year, Dameron always felt Martin had the talent to have this type of game.
“Bud’s always had the ability to throw the football. Sometimes we just didn’t know who he was throwing the ball to,” Dameron said. “He took care of the football and did everything that we asked him to do. He hit the deep ones and that was the difference in the game.”
For Martin, it was a situation he’s been waiting a long time for.
“I was just trying to be prepared for the moment,” Martin said. “Coach has been talking to me to be prepared for the moment and that was it I guess.”
Hollins played a key role in Martin’s big game. Hollins had seven receiving yards at the half. By the end of the game, Hollins finished with 125 yards receiving on five catches and three touchdowns. The last EIU receiver to have three touchdown receptions in a game was Adam Drake on Nov. 1, 2014, against Tennessee Tech.
“It doesn’t matter who is in, we have to go up and make the play and that’s what we did in the second half,” Hollins said. “I feel like I can win any one-on-one battle, especially with the fade route.”
The Golden Eagles were held scoreless in the first quarter of every game this season until this one. Tech went 72 yards in seven plays in its opening drive and scored on Yeedee Thaenrat’s 6-yard run.
On the second drive, Tech went 50 yards in nine plays and scored on Adam Browner’s 2-yard run for a quick 14-0 lead, but the Golden Eagles were shutout for the rest of the half.
Matt Severino hit a 30-yard field goal with 4:47 left in the second quarter for EIU as the Panthers went into halftime trailing 14-3.
Then the switch was made to Martin and Hollins hauled in the 43-yard touchdown to make it 14-10 right away in the third quarter.
“I just saw green,” Martin said. “Green means go and I just threw it to him. … If you ask anyone on the team, it’s kind of a joke on the team that I throw deep balls like that. That’s the offense I was in high school.”
Tech came back and Madonia hit a 51-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead. Then after EIU punted, Tech drove down for another field goal attempt and Madonia hit a 32-yarder to go up 20-10.
Before the third quarter ended, Martin led EIU down the field as he went 4-for-4 and hit Hollins on a fade route for a 10-yard touchdown as the third quarter horn sounded.
Hollins didn’t know what the play was, but ran a fade route, which was the correct route, anyway.
“I just knew the formation, set left, but I didn’t get the play,” Hollins said. “I knew Bud was in and I just figured it was a fade route because Bud loves throwing fade routes.”
On EIU’s next drive, Martin found Hollins for a 55-yard reception and then hit Hollins on another 10-yard fade route to give EIU the 24-20 lead with 10:47 left.
Tech responded with a 33-yard field goal by Madonia and had great field position on its next possession on the EIU 39-yard line. But the Panthers had good coverage and Taylon Shepard, Tray Mitchell and Mack Weaver had back-to-back-back sacks to force Tech to punt.
On Tech’s next possession Mark Williams, who had three previous pass breakups, intercepted a pass with 1:27 remaining.
“Mark has phenomenal ball skills and the one thing that makes him a great corner, he has a lot of confidence and belief in his abilities and he’s going to plaster himself to people,” Dameron said. “This football team has been opportunistic.”
EIU was forced to punt, but it led the Madonia missed field goal as the Panthers won the game.