Sycamores continue road trip with weekend trek to EKU

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Indiana State continues its longest road trip of the 2021 season as the Sycamores line up in their final nonconference matchup of the regular season on Saturday evening against Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff between the Sycamores and the Colonels is set for 7 p.m. and will be carried live on ESPN+ and 105.5 The Legend.


Still on the Road

Indiana State continues its longest road trek this weekend as the Sycamores remain on the road for the third week of the 2021 season. The Sycamores make their fifth trip to Richmond, Ky. in the matchup and first since the 2014 season when Indiana State took on Eastern Kentucky in the FCS Playoffs. The two-game road trip marks Indiana State’s longest of the season as the Sycamores alternate home-away for the remainder of the regular season.


Series History

Indiana State and Eastern Kentucky’s series dates back to the 1926 season when the teams first met in Terre Haute. The Sycamores topped the Colonels in the first matchup between the two programs, 10-7, but EKU took the following seven contests over a stretch spanning from 1938-2000. Indiana State has won the last two matchups in the past decade with a postseason win over EKU in 2014 and a home win two years ago at Memorial Stadium, 19-7.


Defense Reins Supreme

Indiana State’s defense is coming off another dominant performance as the Sycamores head into Saturday’s matchup against the Colonels. The Sycamores allowed just 275 yards throughout the contest and surrendered just nine first downs in the second half on their way to allowing the third-fewest points against a Big Ten opponent in program history. Paced by the trio of Michael Thomas, Inoke Moala, and Matt Thompson, the Sycamores have playmakers at every level and will look to stifle an EKU defense that is averaging 295.5 yards and 17.0 points per game.


Opponent Information

Eastern Kentucky was selected fifth overall in the inaugural ASUN/WAC AQ7 preseason poll as announced prior to the start of the 2021 season. The Colonels received 20 points after a 3-6 season in 2020 in their final season in the Ohio Valley Conference.


Eastern Kentucky topped The Citadel, Central Arkansas, and Western Carolina in the 2020 fall season to pick up their first wins under head coach Walt Wells. The win over the Catamounts came in a game titled the Opportunity Bowl on November 21, 2020.


Six EKU players were recognized on the preseason All-Conference team. Wide receiver Jacquez Jones, offensive lineman Payton Collins, and all-purpose player Jyran Mitchell represented the offense, while defensive lineman Quinten Floyd, linebacker Matthew Jackson, and defensive back Joseph Sayles represented the other side of the ball.


The Colonels are currently 1-1 overall in the 2021 season after opening up on the road in each of their first two contests. Eastern Kentucky topped Western Carolina in the first game of the season, 31-28, before falling this past weekend at Louisville, 30-3.


Redshirt sophomore quarterback Parker McKinney has paced the Colonels offense with back-to-back solid games. McKinney has completed at least 20 passes in each of the two contests, while adding a touchdown pass in the win over Western Carolina. McKinney has thrown three interceptions on the season with two coming this past weekend at Louisville.


Matt Wilcox Jr. (12 catches) and Jaden Smith (10 catches) pace the receiving efforts of the Colonels offense with Wilcox Jr. the team leader with 117 yards. Da’Joun Hewitt is the team leader with 84 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the first two games of the season.


Defensively, Kyle Bailey (19) and Matthew Jackson (18) are the team’s tackling leaders on the year. The Colonels have posted 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks on the year.


Thompson Settling In

Quarterback Anthony Thompson has settled in and taken the reins of the Indiana State offense over the opening two games of the season. After being named the starter midway through fall camp, Thompson has taken a majority of the snaps in each of the first two games. The Chicago, Ill. native has completed 34-of-57 pass attempts in the 2021 season for 219 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came this past weekend in the matchup at Northwestern as Thompson found tight end Zach Larkin open across the middle for a nine-yard touchdown pass in the Sycamores 24-6 loss. Playing in a controlled offense, Thompson is also second on the team with 11 carries to supplement the INS rushing attack. Thompson has also spread the ball around the field with eight different receivers hauling in a pass on the season with Rontrez Morgan hauling a season-high 15 passes.


Morgan Catches Everything

Two games in and Rontrez Morgan has already surpassed the total number of catches the senior wide receiver recorded in the entirety of the 2019 season. Morgan hauled in a team-high six catches in the opener against Eastern Illinois on opening night. This past weekend against Northwestern, the Jacksonville, Fla. native was targeted early and often by INS quarterback Anthony Thompson to the tune of matching his career-high with nine receptions. He’s averaging a team-high 7.5 catches per game and looks to be the linchpin of the Sycamores’ passing game in the early part of the 2021 season.


Kerlegrand Keeps Running

Peterson Kerlegrand continues to sit atop the Indiana State depth chart in the running game heading into the week three matchup at Eastern Kentucky. The senior running back continues to be the workhorse as his eight carries this past week against Northwestern was nearly half of the Sycamores attempts on the day. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native has recorded 27 carries for 83 yards on the season and paces the team with 41.5 yards per game on the ground. Kerlegrand was nominated for MVFC Player of the Week following his opening performance against Eastern Illinois and is expected to be one of the players to watch this weekend heading into the contest at Kidd Field.


Depth and Added Dimension

In addition to Kerlegrand’s abilities on the field, the Sycamores saw flashes of brilliance in the running game by the two-headed monster of Matt Sora and Justin Dinka. Sora has been impressive in limited action between the tackles as the Mason, Ohio native is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, including picking up a team-high 13 rushing yards this past week on three carries against Northwestern. Sora also added the receiving dimension to the game this past weekend with one catch for 17 yards that put the Sycamores inside Northwestern territory in the contest. Dinka has also come along with two carries for six yards against the Wildcats this past weekend as has provided an excellent complement to the Sycamores’ attack.


Spreading the Wealth

Through two games this season the Sycamores passing game has not been shy about targeting the open man. Although Rontrez Morgan (15) and Dante Hendrix (6) highlight the most catches on the Indiana State roster, the Sycamores have seen 11 different players targeted by passes this season with eight different players recording at least one catch. This included four players (Michael Haupert, Phazione McClurge, Matt Sora, and Henry Woodcock) all hauling in their first pass of the season with McClurge bringing in three receptions on the Sycamores scoring drive in the fourth quarter. With a deep stable of receivers on the roster this season, expect to see more players adding their first reception of 2021 over the coming weeks.


Haupert Lines Up Everywhere

Michael Haupert has done everything but throw a pass in the Sycamores offense this season as the do-everything quarterback/wide receiver/running back/return specialist has been a key part to Indiana State’s success in 2021. After rumbling 45 yards for a touchdown and finishing second on the team in rushing in the opener against Eastern Illinois, Haupert took over the receiving side of the ball with five receptions for 33 yards on six targets against Northwestern this past weekend. He’s also been the team’s primary returner on both kickoffs and punts this year with 122 total return yards on the year heading into the week 3 matchup against Eastern Kentucky.


Thompson’s Career Day

Matt Thompson turned in a career effort on the biggest stage this season as the redshirt senior recorded career highs in tackles (11) and tackles for loss (2.0), while limited Northwestern to just 275 total offensive yards. Thompson saw increased playing time after the first two drives and his entry helped play a factor in limiting Northwestern to just nine first downs and 138 total yards over the final three quarters in giving the Sycamores a chance to keep the game within reach. Thompson recorded three tackles on Northwestern’s opening drive of the second quarter to force NW’s first punt of the game and he added seven more stops (six solo) as well as a TFL in the second half in the loss.


Inoke Can’t Be Stopped

Two games in and redshirt seinor defensive end Inoke Moala has two multi-tackle for loss games as the Mishawka, Ind. native picked up two more tackles for loss on Saturday against Northwestern. Moala has recorded at least one tackle for loss in each of his last three games dating back to the 2019 season, while he has recorded at least a partial takedown in the backfield in six of the last seven games. Moala sits among the conference leaders with 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks over the first two games of the season and leads a defensive unit averaging 9.0 tackles for loss per game in 2021. He is one season removed from recording 12.5 tackles for loss in 2019 and is expected to continue to be in the backfield the rest of the way as the schedule shifts toward Missouri Valley Football Conference play.


Attacking Thomas

Michael Thomas continues to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage through the first two games of the 2021 season. The redshirt junior safety earned MVFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following the opener against Eastern Illinois where he posted 10 tackles, two interceptions, and the game-clinching 75-yard return for a score in the Sycamores 26-21 win. This past week against Northwestern Thomas was active early as he continued to attack the line of scrimmage. Thomas recorded six tackles in the contest to finish second among the Sycamores in the game behind Thompson’s 11 takedowns. Thomas leads the Sycamores with 16 tackles on the season, while his two interceptions and two pass breakups continue to sit among the MVFC league leaders.


Heath Can

Heath Stephen II continues to be one of the early impact players on the Sycamores defense in the 2021 season as the junior linebacker sits among the team leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks, while also playing a factor in the passing game. Stephen made a statement on opening night as the Vauxhall, N.J. native recorded six tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hurry in the win over Eastern Illinois. That momentum carried through this past weekend against Northwestern he came through with one of the defense’s plays of the game by breaking through the line of scrimmage for a key sack on third down that ended a Wildcats drive near midfield. He adds an extra dimension to the defense with his ability to play sideline-to-sideline and will look to continue to thrive in the INS defensive package.


Henderson and Edwards on Patrol

JJ Henderson and Johnathan Edwards have settled into their role as the top two cornerbacks for the Sycamores this season and it showed this past weekend against Northwestern. The talented duo combined for six tackles and a pass breakup while limiting the Wildcats under 100 yards passing in the contest. Henderson has recorded three tackles in each of the two games this season as the Stetson transfer has seen increased responsibility with each game. Edwards made his INS debut in the opener and recorded the team’s lone pass breakup this past weekend against Northwestern. The St. Louis, Mo. native is averaging 2.5 tackles per game on the outside.


Get Them Off The Field

Indiana State’s defense continues to be one of the nation’s stingiest when it matters as the Sycamores rebounded from a tough opening quarter against the Wildcats to limit Northwestern to 138 yards and nine first downs over the final 45 minutes of the contest. The Sycamores defense ranks in the top-40 in all FCS in third-down conversion defense at 34.6% after allowing the Wildcats to convert just 5-of-13 attempts this past Saturday. The Sycamores defense was particularly strong in the third quarter when Northwestern started their first two drives at the INS 27 and 18 yard-lines. The Sycamores surrendered just one field goal over the two possessions while forcing a turnover on downs on the second possession to keep the game within striking distance.


Reiner Boots It

Travis Reiner continues to possess one of the biggest legs in the MVFC through two games this season. Reiner put it on display this past weekend against Northwestern as he connected on a pair of 50-yard punts in the third quarter, while his nine-punt average was an impressive 40.9 yards per attempt throughout the game. He added back-to-back punts of 53 and 50 yards in the third quarter, while adding one tackle on the return defense in the loss. Reiner also added three punts downed inside the 20 yard line to put his total at four for the year.

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