Sycamores hold off Eastern Illinois in 2021 season opener
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Michael Thomas swung the momentum of the game in a major way in the fourth quarter with a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown as Indiana State held off visiting Eastern Illinois, 26-21 on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
Thomas took Otto Kuhns’ deflected pass up the middle and went untouched down the left sideline to put Indiana State (1-0) ahead by double-digits early in the fourth quarter. It was Thomas’ second interception of the game and Eastern Illinois’ (0-1) third turnover in the contest as the Sycamores held off the Panthers in the 2021 season opener.
The Indiana State win marked the Sycamores first win in 644 days and ran the ISU winning streak to three consecutive games dating back to the end of the 2019 season. The Sycamores opted out of playing in both the fall and spring of the 2020-21 season.
Peterson Kerlegrand paced the Sycamores’ running game with 19 carries for 73 yards and added a three-yard touchdown plunge to put ISU on the board early. Rontrez Morgan added six catches for 26 yards, while Dante Hendrix set a new school record with a catch in 22 consecutive games on his way to a five-catch, 52-yard game.
Anthony Thompson went 13-of-23 in his first start at quarterback, while Michael Haupert added five carries for 59 yards and a touchdown in the ISU wildcat formation.
Thomas headlined the Indiana State defensive efforts with 10 tackles in addition to his two interceptions. Inoke Moala, Heath Stephen II, Kaleb Brewer, and Geoffrey Brown all posted sacks in the ISU win. Moala added key pressure on the final play of the game that led to a game-ending intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety.
Kuhns paced the Eastern Illinois offense in the game with 253 yards through the air, while Tyler Ringwood hauled in five passes for 116 yards. Harrison Bey-Buie added 57 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
Defensively, Jason Johnson was the tackling leader with eight stops, while Colin Bohanek added six tackles in the loss.
How They Scored
- Peterson Kerlegrand put the Sycamores on the scoreboard midway in the first quarter as the senior running back capped a 10-play, 59-yard drive with a three-yard plunge up the middle to put Indiana State ahead 7-0 with 9:12 to play in the quarter.
- Alan Selzer added to the Sycamores’ lead with 13:01 remaining in the second quarter as the senior placekicker connected from 48 yards out to cap an eight-play, 43-yard drive highlighted by a Anthony Thompson-Dante Hendrix 25-yard completion on the first play.
- Eastern Illinois got on the scoreboard in the second quarter with Harrison Bey-Buie taking the ball up the middle from two-yards out and into the end zone to end a nine-play, 62-yard drive with 6:56 left on the board and cut the ISU lead down to 10-7.
- Indiana State capitalized on a key third-down pass interference call on the first drive of the second half as Michael Haupert took an option snap 44 yards and to the house to put the Sycamores ahead 17-7 with 13:59 remaining in the third quarter.
- A 61-yard completion from Otto Kuhns to Demetrius Garrett set up a four-yard Tyler Hamilton touchdown run as the Panthers answered the ISU score with a touchdown at the 11:49 mark to cut the lead down to 17-14.
- Michael Thomas electrified the Indiana State sideline as the senior defensive back snagged a deflected pass and took it 75 yards down the left sideline for a pick-six to put the Sycamores ahead 24-14 with 13:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
- Kuhns marched the Panthers back down the field and capped a 19-play, 75-yard drive that spanned 10:20 with a one-yard quarterback keeper up the middle to pull EIU back within 24-21 with 2:56 to play
- Inoke Moala blew up the backfied on the final play of the game and forced a Kuhns throwaway in the end zone for an intentional grounding safety that put the final score at 26-21 following the safety.
Inside The Statistics
- Paced by Peterson Kerlegrand and Michael Haupert, Indiana State held the 156-125 edge in rushing yards in the game.
- Eastern Illinois utilized a 35:32-24:28 edge in time of possession to post a 21-13 advantage in first downs in the contest.
- Indiana State took advantage of three Eastern Illinois turnovers to post the key seven-point swing courtesy of Thomas’ interception return for a score.
- Travis Reiner averaged 37.9 yards per punt in the contest, but saved his best of the game for last with a 49-yard attempt that was downed at the EIU 7 late in the fourth quarter.
- Courtesy of Kuhns’ big passing game, Eastern Illinois held the 378-245 edge in total offense yards in the contest.
- The Indiana State defensive pressure resulted in five sacks and nine tackles for loss in the contest.
- In addition to Michael Thomas’ two interceptions, Dwayne Thompson II recorded a pair of pass breakups and added a fumble recovery to highlight the turnover battle.
News and Notes
- Dante Hendrix established a new Indiana State record with a catch in 22 consecutive games, surpassing the mark set by Robert Tonyan Jr. in the 2015-16 seasons. Hendrix has now caught at least one pass in every game since the streak started in the 2018 season against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15, 2018).
- Hendrix has also caught at least one pass in 23 of his 24 career games in the Indiana State Blue & White. He also has at least five receptions in 13 career games.
- Thomas’ second-half pick-six was the first Indiana State interception returned for a score since Rondell Green returned one 17 yards against Southern Illinois in 2017.
- Thomas’ two interceptions were also the first time an Indiana State player recorded multiple interceptions since Anthony Tucker snagged two against Southern Illinois in 2017.
- Inoke Moala’s late-game pressure that resulted in a safety marked the defense’s first safety since the 2014 season against Eastern Kentucky.
- Indiana State’s 87 passing yards marked the first time the Sycamores had been held under 100 passing yards since the 2019 season against Illinois State.
- Indiana State improved to 12-0 all-time under Coach Curt Mallory when leading at the half.
- The defense’s 5.0 sack game tied with the program’s best under Mallory which was established back on August 31, 2017 against Eastern Ilinois.
- Thomas’ 10-tackle game marked his third career double-digit tackling effort with the Sycamores.
- Indiana State ran its winning streak over Eastern Illinois to three consecutive games and improved to 25-22-3 when the two teams have met in Terre Haute throughout the series.
- Indiana State ran its current winning streak to three consecutive games. The streak started over the final two games of the 2019 season, and after a 644-day hiatus, was continued with Saturday’s win over EIU.
Indiana State takes an early bye week before hitting the road for a September 11 matchup at Northwestern. Kickoff between the Sycamores and the Wildcats is set for noon at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. with the game to be carried live on the Big 10 Network and 105.5 The Legend.I
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