CHARLESTON – Before the halftime fireworks show, Jimmy Garoppolo had already fired an Eastern Illinois record tying six touchdown passes.
He finished with a school record seven TD tosses and 480 passing yards while
the Panthers could not have hurt their No. 9 Sports Network Football Championship Subdivision national ranking with Saturday night's 57-24 non-conference win over No. 18 Illinois State at O'Brien Field.
“I think he's a great player,” EIU coach Dino Babers said of his senior quarterback. “I don't know what anyone is waiting for. I'd try to date him if I was a girl. He's going to play in the league.”
Illinois State coach Brock Spack also watched in admiration though with different emotions.
“I've always been a Jimmy Garoppolo fan,” Spack said. “Thank God this is the last time I see him. He was red hot. The fades he threw were tremendous.”
Erik Lora caught three of the touchdown passes and became the Ohio Valley Conference career receptions leader on a night he had 10 catches for 186 yards while Charleston's Adam Drake had 11 catches for 176 as the Panthers raised their record to 3-0.
“It just looked like we finally played a clean game,” Babers said. “We left 14 to 21 points on the table at San Diego State and 14 to 21 points at Southern Illinois, and tonight I think we cleaned our plates. We didn't leave anything on our plate.”
With four NFL scouts in attendance, Garoppolo topped the EIU record of six touchdown passes in a game shared by two NFL quarterbacks – Jeff Christensen against Kentucky State in 1982 and current Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo in 2000 against Murray State.
Garoppolo had 438 yards and six touchdowns on 23-for-36 passing in the first half that ended with Cameron Berra's 38-yard field goal giving the Panthers a 44-10 lead.
After hitting Lora for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 13:55 remaining, Garoppolo watched the rest of the game from the sideline leaving safe the EIU record of 508 passing yards in a game set by Sean Payton against Saginaw Valley in 1984.
This game certainly lacked the suspense of last year's double-overtime game won by Illinois State 54-51 but did return the Mid-American Classic trophy to Eastern.
Illinois State quarterback Jared Barnett, a transfer from Iowa, was injured late in the second quarter when throwing his third interception and did not play in the second half.
Redshirt freshman Blake Winkler in his collegiate debut completed eight of 11 passes for 133 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith with 2:06 remaining.
Lora, who last year broke the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record for catches in a season with 136, became the Ohio Valley Conference career receptions leader with nine regular season games still left in his senior year.
His second catch of the night, a 36-yard touchdown bomb from Garoppolo, tied the record and gave Eastern a 20-7 lead with 3:36 left in the first quarter and he broke that mark with his 233rd career catch with 8:05 left in the first half.
Illinois State 7 3 7 7 -- 24
Eastern Illinois 27 17 6 0 -- 57
ISU – Anthony Warrum 22 pass from Jared Barnett (Nick Aussieker kick), 12:45
EIU – Adam Drake 23 pass from Jimmy Garoppolo (kick failed), 11:24
EIU – Andre Hodge 6 pass from Garoppolo (Cameron Berra kick), 7:51
EIU – Erik Lora 63 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 5:36
EIU – Keiondre Gober 86 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), :03
ISU – FG Aussieker 29, 8:52
EIU – Drake 30 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 6:33
EIU – Lora 14 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 4:49
EIU – FG Berra 38, :00
ISU – Cameron Merideth 5 pass from Blake Winkler (Aussieker kick), 11:01
EIU – Shepard Little 73 run (kick failed), 10:44
EIU – Lora 7 pass from Garoppolo (Berra kick), 13:56
ISU – 2:05