Up 36-20 midway through the third quarter, it seemed the Racers had the game pretty well cinched up.
However, the Eastern Illinois Panthers (2-2, 1-0 OVC) saw things a little differently, forcing overtime and eventually defeating Murray State 50-49 on a gutsy two-point conversion to seal the victory Sept. 22.
With a school record-tying five field goals from freshman kicker Jordan Benton, the Racers (1-3, 0-1 OVC) exchanged touchdowns for kicks in the second half as the Panthers climbed back into the game behind the play of junior wideout Erik Lora.
Lora caught an OVC-record 21 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, while junior Racer receiver Walter Powell was once again the sure hands for senior quarterback Casey Brockman, catching 13 passes for 142 yards.
With both teams using up-tempo offenses and a balance of run and pass, the four-hour game had 1,142 yards of offense with the Racers grinding out almost 600 yards in the loss.
The Racers forced the Panthers into two fourth down situations in overtime, but each was converted as Murray State couldn’t hold on to the lead. Lora converted a short throw over the goal line for the conversion and the win.
With passing defense continuing to be a trouble spot for the Racer secondary, no bigger receiving threat looms on the schedule than Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who will visit the Racers Saturday at 6 p.m in Roy Stewart Stadium.
Kicked off the University of Tennessee football team for failed drug tests and violating team rules, Rogers elected to stay in-state and continue his college football career with the Golden Eagles (2-2, 0-1 OVC). He finished last year an all-SEC recipient, with 67 catches for 1,040 yards for the Volunteers.
Against Southeast Missouri State (2-2, 1-0 OVC), Rogers caught 18 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the double overtime loss.
Watching tape on the fearsome wideout has kept Head Coach Chris Hatcher up late at night, and the coach admits Rogers is certainly the real deal.
“They may have the best player in the league in Rogers,” Hatcher said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a player as good as he is. By having him on their team, that’s really added another dimension to them. We have never faced a guy this good.”
Hatcher said the biggest test for this weekend will be to try and defend the pass while not giving up too much on the run.
“The thing is, you try and double-team a guy like that and you take away from defending the run game,” he said. “They do the things we do, try and spread you out and if you spread out you run the ball and if you pack it on in there, you throw it.”
The Racers, who are trying to regroup after a nightmarish four-game stretch, did not practice Sunday night as Hatcher gave the team a well-earned night off.
Edward Marlowe, Staff writer