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CHARLESTON, Illinois --Tennessee State suffered its first loss of the season, falling 35-34 at Eastern Illinois in Ohio Valley Conference action on Saturday night at O’Brien Field. TSU falls to 4-1 overall (1-1 OVC), while Eastern Illinois runs its record to 4-2 (2-1 OVC).
Senior quarterback Ronald Butler passed for a career-high 303 yards with touchdown passes to Patrick Smith and Steven Newbold. Smith finished with seven receptions for 160 yards, while Newbold pulled down four passes for 121 yards. Defensively, Chris Collins registered 12 total tackles and his first interception of the season.
For the second consecutive game the Tigers found themselves down by double digits early in the first quarter. Eastern Illinois used a 66 yard kickoff return to the TSU 24 to setup a four play drive resulting in a nine-yard touchdown pass. EIU increased their lead to 14-0 on Devin Church’s first of three touchdowns on the evening.
Chris Rowland would jump start the Tigers with a 65 yard kickoff return, allowing the offense to start at the Panthers 30. TSU would stall after six plays, setting up a Lane Clark 37 yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-3.
The Tigers would get the offense going midway through the second quarter. Earl Harrison started the drive with a nine yard run before 15 yards was tacked on after an EIU personal foul. On the next play, Butler found Steven Newbold for a 28 yard pass play moving the Tigers to the six. Two plays later, Butler called his own number bring TSU back to within four, 14-10.
Trailing 21-10, the Tigers tried to score before half, but Butler was stripped of the ball giving EIU the ball at the TSU 35. On the next play, Ezra Robinson stepped in front of a Mitch Kimble pass and returned it into Panther territory with three second on the clock.
Clark would connect on a 57-yard field goal for the second consecutive week, but the play was whistled dead as the defense jumped offside causing the TSU linemen to move. Clark’s attempt from 52 yards was good sending the Tigers to the locker room trailing 21-13 at the break.
Butler and Smith teamed up on the second drive of the third quarter for a pair of big pass plays. The Tigers began the drive at their own 10 as the duo connected for 22 yards. Two plays later Smith hauled in a 47-yarder in traffic to get down to the EIU 19.
TSU would work itself inside the five allowing Earl Harrison to power in from three yards out to bring the Tigers to within one, 21-20. EIU would need less than two minutes to regain their eight point lead.
Down by a 28-20 margin, the Tigers scored back-to-back touchdowns and had a 34-28 lead with 10 minutes to play. Smith opened the scoring with a spectacular one armed reception as Butler hit the junior wide out in stride down the sideline for a 56 yard touchdown.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Newbold found an opening on the TSU sideline and out maneuvered his defender before diving into the end zone to secure the third touchdown of his freshman campaign.
EIU’s Devin Church scored his third touchdown of the game with 9:00 left in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers up for good at 35-34.
TSU is back in action on Saturday, Oct. 15, as they host Eastern Kentucky for Homecoming 2016 at Nissan Stadium.
GAME NOTES: Opening kickoff was at 6:04 p.m. … Captains for TSU were Ronald Butler, Lane Clark, Thomas Burton and Chris Collins… Weather at the time of the game was 64 degrees and clear… EIU won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff… TSU has scored 31 or more points in every game this season… Senior quarterback Ronald Butler recorded a career-high 303 passing yards… Junior wide receiver Patrick Smith has caught at least one touchdown in every game this season… Lane Clark connected on a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half. It was the third longest in his career… TSU is now 8-12 in the all-time series versus Eastern Illinois… The Tigers have gone 2-8 in games at O’Brien Field.
TSU Linebacker Chris Collins“I think we played ok but we have a lot of work to do. I feel like we beat ourselves on a lot of play. That wasn’t our kind of football to let them score as much as they did. We have a lot of work to do and we need to get back to the drawing board.” - On the play of the defense
“I think it’s humbling for us as a team. It shows us that we can be beat and that we have a lot of work to still put in. It’s going to be a test every week.” - On what the team can take away from the game
TSU Wide Receiver Patrick Smith “Us being down, it wasn’t anything that we’re not used to. We’ve been going through it all year. It just took us believing in each other to get back into the game. We just came up just short. We just have to go back to the drawing board, start fresh with EKU and try to go 1-0.” - On the toughness to come back from an early deficit
“The run game was there, obviously. We made a few mistakes in the passing game that we can fix, but other than that, everything that we game planned was there. It’s just on us to capitalize.”
- On the play of the offense
TSU Linebacker Antonio Justice“It being our first cold game, I feel like guys stepped up a lot. We could have folded because we aren’t used to the weather, but we stuck together. From defense to offense to special teams, everybody did their part. I feel like we need to come out faster and that’s all.”
- On the team’s performance
TSU Center Thomas Burton “I thought we played pretty well. There’s always room for improvement, always stuff we can fix in the long run, but overall I thought we played pretty well.” - On the play of the offensive line
“We had some fans, so we didn’t have to do it ourselves, but it was tough.” - On playing in a tough environment.
TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS