NORMAL -- Illinois State came out flat-footed on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, losing 24-21 to in-state rival Eastern Illinois in the 105th Mid-American Classic.
Last week’s hero for ISU, kicker Sean Slattery, missed a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter, which proved to be the difference.
ISU head coach Brock Spack said, “No one play out there made the difference. Just an accumulation of a bad football group.”
However, Spack did not shy away from the fact that Slattery’s missed field goal, his second consecutive week missing a kick after missing one last week at Northwestern, was a factor in the loss.
“He didn’t set it up right” Spack said. “He overplayed the wind and shoved the ball. We’ll go back to practice this week. He’s got to make that kick.”
Saturday’s loss in front of a sold-out Hancock Stadium crowd of 13,391 was ISU’s first regular season loss at home since Nov. 17, 2012 against North Dakota State, a span of 18 consecutive wins.
Coming off one of the biggest wins in program history, the Redbirds were sluggish from kickoff.
A plethora of turnovers, penalties and blown coverages may have been a result of a hangover from the win in Evanston a week ago.
“You name it, we found a way to lose this game,” Spack said. “We definitely didn’t punt particularly well.”
On the first offensive possession of the game, the Redbirds lost a fumble that led to a Panther field goal. The Panthers scored 10 points off of Redbird turnovers.
Jake Kolbe completed 25-for-37 (68 percent) passes for 275 yards, throwing two touchdowns and one interception. Kolbe also led the team with 12 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown.
ISU outgained the Panthers in total yards 443 to EIU’s 263. The Redbirds had 172 yards in the fourth quarter while their offense was shutout in the first half.
ISU kickoff returners failed to catch two Panther kickoffs, which started two drives for Kolbe and the offense with their backs to their own end zone.
ISU punter Reece Attard had a brutal performance in five punts, averaging just 31.8 yards per punt.
ISU committed 10 penalties for a total of 71 yards on the afternoon. Perhaps the costliest was when B.J. Bello was called for a roughing the kicker penalty on an EIU punt with four minutes to go, the call took over two minutes off the clock.
The Redbirds made a fierce comeback attempt in the fourth quarter. Kolbe scored on a 58-yard scramble, and again with less than a minute left when he completed a 2-yard touchdown to wide out Spencer Schnell.
All-American wide receiver Anthony Warrum, who had five catches for 96 yards said, “You can’t come out flat like that and expect to beat a good team like EIU … We have to come out ready to play.”
Bello led ISU defenders with nine tackles (six solo, three assisted) and one sack. EIU’s Seth McDonald led the Panthers with ten tackles (five solo, five assisted) and a fumble recovery.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around, including me,” Spack said. “We’ll go back to work tomorrow and take it from there.”
The Redbirds (2-1) begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play next Saturday when they travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to take on Indiana State. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.