CHARLESTON, Ill. – Senior Washaun Ealey led the most productive running attack Eastern Illinois has seen this season, but turnovers did the Gamecocks in in a 31—28 loss to the Panthers on Saturday.
Ealey ran for 149 yards and three scores on 23 carries to lead a 290-yard ground attack for the Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2 Ohio Valley Conference), but five turnovers ended up proving too costly for JSU to overcome. The Panthers (4-3, 3-1 OVC) capitalized on the JSU miscues and handed JSU its first loss in the series in three years.
Senior Quarterback Marques Ivory was 14-for-26 passing for 160 yards, but a career-high three interceptions and a fumble lost set up a high-octane EIU offense that got just enough offense to pull off the win.
Ealey averaged 6.5 yards per carry on the day to continue what has been a dominant two-year career against the Panthers. A year ago, he ran for 155 yards in a win over EIU at Burgess-Snow Field, his second-best single game as a Gamecock. Saturday's output was his third best and was the first 100-yard rushing performance against the Panthers this season, giving him 304 yards in two career games against EIU.
EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 220 yards and two interceptions on 26-for-51 passing, but had one big touchdown pass. It came with 3:37 to play and found the hands of Chris Wright in the end zone to erase a 28-24 JSU lead and give EIU the deciding lead.
Freshman Jermaine Hough had 10 tackles for JSU after entering the game with just nine in his young career. Junior Rashad Smith led JSU's defense with 13 tackles on a day that saw the Gamecocks hold EIU to just 381 yards on 88 plays, the Panthers' second-worst offensive output of the season.
Jake Walker led Eastern Illinois on the ground with 103 yards and a touchdown, while Taylor Duncan scored on his 52-yard day.
Senior Alan Bonner, back after missing last week with an injury, led the Gamecocks receiving corps with 67 yards on five catches.
Jacksonville State jumped on the Panthers early, forcing a two-yard punt by Scott Weatherford that set up the Gamecocks on the EIU 45. After a 15-yard Ivory pass to Trey Smith and a 27-yard run by Ealey, his longest of the year to that point, Ealey punched it in from three yards out to give the Gamecocks their quickest score of the year with 12:03 still to play in the first quarter.
JSU's defense held the Panthers scoreless throughout the first quarter, the first time they have failed to score in the first 15 minutes this season, and then put another touchdown on the board early in the second quarter.
This time it was Blanchard's turn to lead the scoring drive, a 51-yard-eight play one that was capped when he found a wide open Denzel Cheeks in the end zone from one yard out. The score gave JSU a 14-0 lead with 13:49 remaining in the half.
The tables turned at that point for JSU's offense, which turned it over on four-straight possessions, three of which led to EIU points and gave the Panthers a 17-14 lead at the half.