Saturday, September 3, 2016

Eastern Michigan Offensive Onslaught Powers Eagles to Season-Opening Victory Over Mississippi Valley

YPSILANTI, Michigan – A historic offensive performance from the Eastern Michigan University football team powered the Eagles (1-0) to a season-opening 61-14 victory over Mississippi Valley State University Friday night, Sept. 2, at "The Factory" inside Rynearson Stadium. A balanced effort led the Eagles to a 61-14 victory over the Delta Devils (0-1).

The Green and White's point total marked the most scored by EMU since 2004, when it also notched 61 against Central Michigan. The final tally also marked the largest margin of victory in a season opener since 2008.

As a team, Eastern ran away with the win behind a balanced offensive attack featuring 281 rushing yards, along with 198 passing yards. In total, the Eagles posted 479 yards of offense, posting a perfect 9-for-9 mark in the red zone. Leading the charge on the ground was redshirt sophomore Shaq Vann (South Bend, Ind. – John Adams), who posted a final stat line of 156 yards and two touchdowns, the second 100-yard rushing performance of his career. Just behind him, fellow redshirt sophomore Ian Eriksen (Clarkston, Mich. – Clarkston) picked up 97 yards, along with the first two scores of his career.

Through the air, junior Todd Porter (O'Fallon, Ill. – O'Fallon (Western Kentucky – Garden City C.C.))made his first start donning the Green and White, amassing 171 yards passing and three touchdowns. On the receiving side, redshirt freshman Nigel Kilby (Fort Wayne, Ind. – Northrop) caught his first career touchdown and totaled 67 yards. Redshirt freshman Paul Fricano (Rochester, N.Y. – Churchville, Chili)had a great day kicking as well, knocking down a field goal, along with drilling all eight of his extra point attempts, tying for the most in program history, and the most since 2008.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Green and White held the Delta Devils to just 201 yards, including only 23 on the ground, the fifth-least in program history, and the fewest since 2011. The defense also forced three fumbles, securing two of them. Through three quarters, the Eagles held MVSU scoreless, as they were able to muster 14 points in the final frame. Redshirt senior Pat O'Connor (Chicago, Ill. – Saint Rita) made his return to the field following an injury last season, erupting for two sacks and three quarterback hurries on the day. Eastern's leading tackler on the day was redshirt sophomore Kyle Rachwal (Lapeer, Mich. – Lapeer East) with 10 total, including two assisted tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Harris (Lambertville, Mich. – Bedford Senior) also made his presence known, recovering a fumble.

After a three-and-out by the Eagles to open the game, the EMU defense turned around and forced a quick punt by MVSU to get the ball back early in the first quarter. The EMU offense retook the field and got into rhythm behind stout running from Vann, along with accurate passing from Porter. A 19-yard pass to juniorJohnnie Niupalau (San Mateo, Calif. – San Mateo (College of San Mateto)) for 19 started the drive, while a 14-yarder to junior Sergio Bailey II (La Mesa, Calif. – Olympian (Grossmont College)) brought the Eagles within the 10-yard line. From there, Vann took the ball on consecutive plays, the latter getting into the end zone for the first score of the game, and putting the Green and White ahead, 7-0.

On the next series, the EMU defense swarmed the MVSU backfield, as O'Connor nabbed a sack, which also forced the ball loose within the 15-yard line. After sorting out the pile, redshirt freshman Maxx Crosby(Colleyville, Texas – Colleyville Heritage) came up with the ball, giving Eastern an opportunity to quickly increase their lead. The team did just that, as Eriksen punched the ball in from the five to put EMU up 14-0 with 6:37 remaining in the first.

Like their first series, the defense came up big again on MVSU's next possession, forcing another four and out. After a MVSU punt, the Eagles' offense came out firing yet again, as Kilby erupted for a gain of 34 yards on a pass from Porter over the middle. However, the Eagles couldn't pick up a first down, and elected to go for a field goal, which fell short.

On the ensuing possession, the Delta Devils were able to move the chains for the first time in the game. However, Harris forced another fumble, with the Eagles coming up with it at the MVSU four-yard line. The Green and White quickly capitalized, as redshirt junior Lavonte Robinson (Cleveland, Ohio – St. Edward)found the end zone after a short pass from Porter, which was his first career touchdown throw. With 2:43 to go in the first, Eastern ran to a 21-0 lead over the Delta Devils, which carried over to the second quarter.

At the end of the first and beginning of the second, the Delta Devils continued nickel and diming their way down the field on a series of short passes and rushes. However, after a broken up pass by senior DaQuan Pace (Detroit, Mich. – Cass Tech) and a sack from redshirt senior Mike Brown (Sandusky, Ohio – Sandusky), MVSU was forced to punt, giving EMU the ball at their own 20. On the first play of the drive, Vann found a crease, picking up 18 yards. However, the Eagles couldn't pick up the next first down, forcing a punt at the 44.

After a penalty on the Eagles, the Delta Devils picked up their drive at the 30. MVSU then picked up a first down after a five-yard rush from Booker and a 7-yard pass. Their drive continued, as Bray fooled the EMU defense on an option play, picking up 11. O'Connor picked up his second sack of the game on the next play for a loss of seven. The next play saw three Eagles get into the backfield, forcing a pass to Simms for a loss of four yards and another MVSU punt. The Eagles turned the ball over on the other end on the ensuing possession, as Porter threw his first interception after his intended target fell down.

The defense minimized the damage, forcing the Delta Devils to punt yet again. With less than five minutes to go in the half, Eastern maintained a 21-0 lead. Pinned within their own 10, Eriksen quickly gave the Eagles some breathing room, taking the ball and rushing for 31 yards on the first play of the drive. On fourth and one, the Eagles elected to go for it, with Eriksen bruising his way ahead for seven. Senior Sam Browning (Escondido, Calif. – Escondido (Palomar C.C.)) kept the drive going, catching a pass for 13 to bring EMU to the MVSU 27-yard line. With the clock ticking down to less than a minute in the half, the Eagles went for a shot at the end zone. Although the pass was just out of reach, a MVSU pass interference penalty brought the Green and White to the 13. On the next play, junior Antoine Porter (San Francisco, Calif. – Mission (City College of San Francisco)) found the end zone for his first career touchdown, which was also Porter's second of the game. With less than 30 seconds to play in the half, the Eagles held a commanding 28-0 lead. The Delta Devils decided to let the clock run down, and Eastern went to the locker room holding a 28-point lead.

MVSU opened the second half with the ball, but they were able to do nothing, as the EMU defense forced another three-and-out. After a fair catch from redshirt sophomore Blake Banham (St. Paul, Minn. – Cretin-Derham Hall), the Eagles got the ball at their own 37. Vann started the drive with a 12-yard rush behind solid blocking from redshirt sophomore Jimmy Leatiota (San Jose, Calif. – Wilcox (College of San Mateo)). A Porter pass to Bailey picked up another 13, bringing EMU to the MVSU 32, while Vann bulldozed his way through the line for 21 yards, moving the chains to the eight. Dropping back to pass on third-and-goal, Porter found Kilby in the end zone to put seven more on the board after the extra point from Fricano. This marked Kilby's first career touchdown, and furthered Porter's total to three on the day.

A solid return gave the Delta Devils the ball around the 40, however an illegal block brought the ball back to the nine. After a short rush, another penalty pushed MVSU back to the four-yard line. A sack from redshirt senior Ike Spearman (Saint John, Ind. – Lake Central) and junior Jason Beck (Indianapolis, Ind. – Arsenal Technical) then forced another MVSU punt near the goal line, allowing EMU to get the ball back with good field position at the MVSU 38.

Porter then threw up a fade to Kilby, who came down with it for a gain of 28 despite tough coverage from the Delta Devils. Although the EMU drive stalled, the Eagles still put points on the board behind Fricano's first career field goal, which came from 35-yards out. With three more on the board, the Eagles increased their lead to 38-0.

The stout defense continued on the next drive, as sophomore Jaylen Pickett (Zephyrhills, Fla. – Zephyrhills) forced another MVSU fumble, which along with a penalty, brought the Delta Devils back to the two-yard line. After a near interception from freshman Jalen Phelps (Marietta, Ga.-Hillgrove), MVSU was forced to punt from the three. A delay of game pushed the ball back even further, and the Delta Devils followed by snapping the ball through the end zone, giving the Eagles a safety, their first since 2005, and two more points on the board to make it 40-0.

Following the safety, Banham posted a huge return of 69 yards to give the Eagles the ball at the MVSU four-yard line. On the first offensive play of the series, Banham got the handoff and carried it into the end zone for EMU's sixth TD on the day. With 5:33 to go in the third, the Green and White commanded a 47-0 lead over the Delta Devils.

MVSU was then able to get across the 50 for the second time on the day, but were unable to move any further. After a punt from the Delta Devils, Eastern got the ball back at their 12-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Vann rumbled his way down the field for a huge gain of 58 yards after breaking a few tackles and tip-toeing his way down the sideline. He kept the trend going, picking up another 13 to put EMU into the red zone, after which he picked up his second touchdown of the day. Fricano's extra point then made the score 54-0 in favor of Eastern.

With the clock winding down to zero on the third quarter, the Eagles went into the final frame holding a 54-0 lead. The Delta Devils were then able to get a drive going, getting into EMU territory for the third time. Pass interference penalties kept the drive alive for MVSU, pushing them to the EMU 26. A short pass to Simms gave the Delta Devils another first down, after which Banks caught MVSU's first touchdown of the day.  With 12:28 to go in the half, Eastern still commanded a 54-7 lead.

The MVSU kick off saw redshirt senior Austin Sanders (Ypsilanti, Mich. – Ypsilanti (Michigan State))return the ball 51 yards with blazing speed to the Delta Devils 49. Eriksen continued to bulldoze his way down the field, picking up 34 yards on four tough rushes up the middle to put EMU within the 10. He was then rewarded for his effort, fighting his way into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day, putting the Eagles up 61-7 after the extra point.

The Delta Devils then put together another solid drive, getting to the EMU one-yard line after a pass from Bray to Banks. From there, Bray dove over the line to give MVSU another touchdown, making it 61-14 with 5:35 left to play.

The Eagles promptly responded with a long drive of their own behind shovel passes from redshirt freshman James Pensyl (Land O'Lakes, Fla. – Land O'Lakes) to Antoine Porter, as well as rushes from Banham and redshirt sophomore Alec Hullibarger (Temperance, Mich. – Bedford Senior). Eastern continued to bleed down the clock with consecutive rushes. After taking a knee with 30 seconds to go, the Eagles walked away with a dominating 61-14 victory over MVSU.  

The Eagles continue their 2016 campaign next Saturday, Sept. 10, on the road at the University of Missouri. Kickoff from Columbia is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT.



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