BY BRIAN NIELSEN
CHARLESTON – Even if a day of 12 receptions for 119 yards with three touchdowns is practically routine stuff, Erik Lora found a new way to be entertained.
“In college I've never returned a punt for a touchdown so that was pretty cool,” the Eastern Illinois All-American said.
Lora added to his college check-list with an 80-yard punt return in the third quarter after having what would have been an 84-yard return to the end nullified by a penalty.
He finished 234 all-purpose yards as the Football Championship Subdvision's second-ranked Eastern beat Ohio Valley Conference foe Tennessee Tech 56-21 on Hall of Fame Day at O'Brien Field.
“We knew there were holes in their defense and we have a great quarterback who puts the ball on the money and makes my job easy,” Lora said.
That quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had 399 yards on 33-for-50 passing with four touchdowns and one interception on a day that Chicago Bears General Manager Phil Emery came to scout and a Sports Illustrated writer came for a story on the national FCS leader in passing yardage and touchdowns.
“I didn't have the best of games,” Garoppolo said. “For instance the first play of the game I under threw (Adam) Drake. It should have been an easy touchdown.”
Garoppolo still had 282 passing yards by halftime marking the ninth time in as many games this year the Walter Payton Award candidate has topped 200 by halftime.
“He has 399 yards and everybody says he has an off day,” EIU coach Dino Babers said.
Raising their record to 8-1 overall and 5-0 atop the OVC, the Panthers had a 28-0 lead with 11:17 still left in the second quarter.
Contributing to that was Shepard Little with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown so when Lora added his return it marked the first time two different EIU players had returned a punt for a score in the same game.
Little also had a 21-yard touchdown run as part of his 67 rushing yards on 16 carries while Taylor Duncan had 76 yards on 16 carries including a 16-yard touchdown.
Keoindre Gober caught five passes for 129 yards including a 79-yard touchdown marking the eighth time this year Garoppolo has thrown a touchdown pass of 60 yards or longer.
Drake added five catches for 58 yards.
But maybe as impressive as EIU's unit that entered the game leading the FCS in total offense was a defense that allowed just 83 yards rushing, an average of 2.6 yards on 32 attempts, with Tech's scores coming on drives of just 15, 21 and 22 yards.
“Guys, our defense is playing up,” Babers said. “You hear about marrying up. These guys are playing up. Sometimes I try to make my adjustments (offensively) quickly so I can watch them. They're fun to watch.”
Tennessee Tech 0 7 0 14 -- 21
Eastern Illinois 21 7 21 7 -- 56
EIU – Erik Lora 5 pass from Jimmy Garoppolo (Cameron Berra kick), 9:03
EIU – Lora 29 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 2:16
EIU – Shepard Little 75 punt return (Berra kick), :35
EIU – Keiondre Gober 79 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 11:17
TTU – Krys Cates 15 pass from Jared Davis (Zach Sharp kick), 9:27
EIU – Lora 5 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 11:00
EIU – Taylor Duncan 16 run (Berra kick), 7:56
EIU – Lora 80 punt return (Berra kick), 6:25
TTU – Eric Belew 7 pass from Davis (Chris Harris kick), 12:03
EIU – Little 21 run (Berra kick), 9:51
TTU – Belew 26 pass from Davis (Harris kick), 2:04