The Panthers erupted for 35 first-half points to take control of the game early but went scoreless in the second half as the Demons tightened the game, 35-27.
It wasn’t a perfect win, but EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson will take the points no matter when they come.
“The name of the game is to have one more point than your opponent at the end of the game, however you do that, whether they come in bunches early or bunches late,” Wilkerson said. “It was certainly an interesting day and it is nice to end the game with a positive results. I was super happy for the staff and the players, to see all the hard work they have put in rewarded with a victory.”
Eastern Illinois is now on a two-game winning streak for the first time since the 2017 season when the Panthers had four straight wins. It is a promising improvement for the team but Wilkerson sees much to improve from last week’s game.
“There’s a reason why we weren’t successful with some of those (second half) drives. We stubbed our own toes and there is stuff we need to clean up,” Wilkerson said. “(In the second half), we had some drive-killing penalties at the start of some drives and a turnover. We held on and did what we had to do to get the victory.
“It’s a good sign for a football team when you don’t play your best football and you still end up on the best side of the score.”
The EIU rushing game has posted back-to-back 300-plus rushing performances for the first time since 2014. After rushing for 339 yards at Murray State, the Panthers churned out 340 yards in Saturday’s win over Northwestern State with four rushing touchdowns. EIU is now 18th in the FCS in rushing yards per game averaging 192.2 per game.
Quarterback Dom Shoffner rushed for 134 yards against Northwestern State, including two of the Panthers’ four rushing scores. A senior transfer from UNC-Charlotte, Shoffner became just the fourth quarterback in program history to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Running back Markenz Pierre had 75 yards rushing and EIU’s other quarterback Jonah O’Brien added 64 yards and two touchdowns.
“Offensively, (offensive coordinator Joe Davis) and the staff put together a great half and we finished every single (first half) drive except one. We came into the half and they made some adjustments and it became a heck of a ball game,” Wilkerson said. “Our quarterbacks both continue to be productive and our tight ends did a great job of blocking on the perimeter. On defense really picked up and we had four sacks. The secondary had its hands full but they did a phenomenal job.”
EIU plays Lindenwood, in St. Charles, Mo., for the first time ever at home on Saturday. Lindenwood is in its first season of play at the FCS level, joining the Ohio Valley Conference this summer.
The Lions are 3-2 with wins in their first-ever FCS game over Houston Christian and last weekend at Central Arkansas.
Veteran quarterback Cade Brister leads the Lions offensive attack passing for more than 1,600 yards and rushing for another 200. Lindenwood averages just under 33 points per game.
“Their offense has been explosive to say the least. Brister is as good as anyone we have seen. He has an amazing grasp of their system and get the ball out of his hand. He’s accurate and on time,” Wilkerson said. “I assume this is going to bloom into a very nice rivalry based on the proximity of Charleston and St. Louis. We are excited about the challenge and know it is a very good football team coming here.”
Here’s a look at Saturday’s game:
Lindenwood (3-2) at Eastern Illinois (2-3)
Time: Saturday at 2 p.m.
Location: O’Brien Field in Charleston
Radio: 88.9 WEIU-FM
Series: This is the first meeting between the teams.
Next Game: EIU plays at Tennessee State at 2 p.m. on Oct. 22.
Notes: EIU faces OVC newcomer Lindenwood but the game will be counted as a non-conference game for both schools due to a late schedule adjustment. ... Eastern Illinois’ defense forced three turnovers against Northwestern State as the Panthers have now forced multiple turnovers in four straight games. ... Eastern Illinois defense held Northwestern State to 54 yards rushing in the Panthers win as the Panthers posted its fifth straight game without allowing an opponent’s running back to collect 100 yards.
PHOTOS: Illinois State wins 35-7 over Eastern Illinois