|ISU football ends playoff run in quarterfinals|
|Written by Tawni Ricketts, Daily Vidette Sports Editor|
|Sunday, 09 December 2012 17:11|
ESPN3 compared the Illinois State football team to the 2011-12 New York Giants in Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal playoff game, in reference to the Redbirds’ similar pursuit of a postseason bid by harnessing wins on the road.
However, while the Giants ended their season with a championship title in the Super Bowl, the Redbirds suffered a 51-35 loss to second-seed Eastern Washington University, thus ending the 2012 season and shot at the FCS title for Illinois State.
The ’Birds finished the season with a 9-4 overall record, including a 6-1 record on the road — a road record that was untarnished in the regular season.
“I [am] very proud of them. They didn’t lose the game; they just ran out of time,” ISU head coach Brock Spack told WJBC radio. “We just couldn’t seem to get control of the game, especially defensively. They kept us off our game a little bit. We made mistakes that we haven’t made in two years, and that leads to 51 points. You had to play almost a perfect game to win it.
“We just have to keep improving … but we have a good core group of guys coming back and we should be pretty salty again next year.”
Despite tallying 520 yards of total offense on the fire-red Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., the Redbirds couldn’t upend a 21-point second-half deficit, despite signs of a comeback.
Down 38-17 with just over 11 minutes left in the third quarter, the Redbirds rallied back for 18 points to bring ISU within three points, 38-35. But the Eagles answered the ’Birds with a 76-yard touchdown pass that muffled ISU’s second-half rally and secured the victory for EWU.
“We made a miraculous comeback … and just did some amazing things to get back in the game. We just made way too many errors to win this,” Spack said. “[We’re] tough. [We] weren’t going to go out that way, [we] were going to fight back, and [we] did.
“Defensively, we didn’t fit the run right, and that really hurt us. We just did things that you can’t do in a game of this magnitude and expect to win."
In his last game as a Redbird, senior quarterback Matt Brown threw for 372 yards on 27-of-48 passing with two touchdowns. Senior Tyrone Walker tallied nine catches for 148 yards with one touchdown in his final debut as a ’Bird, while Lechein Neblett added six catches for 101 yards with one touchdown.
Senior Darrelynn Dunn led the ground attack with 24 carries for 98 yards and one touchdown.
On the defensive side, senior Mike Zimmer fronted the team with nine tackles while Shelby Harris registered two sacks and three tackles-for-loss. Dominic Clarke added to ISU’s effort with a forced fumble and his second interception of the year.
The score rose quickly in the opening half as points were scored on the first six possessions of the game. ISU jumped out with an early 3-0 lead thanks to a Nick Aussieker field goal, but EWU responded with a touchdown pass to put the Eagles ahead, 7-3.
ISU followed up with a touchdown from Brown to Walker to put the score back in the Redbirds’ favor, 10-7.
The score continued to teeter-totter throughout the first half, but the Eagles snatched the 24-17 lead at halftime, and despite a second-half effort that closed the Eagles lead margin to 38-35, the ’Birds would ultimately fall in a 51-35 decision.
“It was a very good year I thought. We put ourselves in position and won some big games,” Spack said. “I’m impressed with how we played on the road … We were able to bounce back through adversity and find a way to win and put ourselves in [the] position to play in the quarterfinals.”
With the conclusion of the 2012 season, the Redbirds will be losing a variety of key senior players on both offense and defense due to graduation, including Brown, ISU’s quarterback for the past four years.
“[The seniors] left a legacy behind that we can, as a program now, live off of. They were good leaders and I can’t speak enough of what they did,” Spack said. “I’m just very proud of them … they put us back on the national map. We’re relevant again in football at Illinois State.”