By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech was driving with a chance to win on Saturday night, but the Golden Eagles saw the opportunity slip away against Football Championship Subdivision No. 17 Eastern Illinois.
Tech (2-5, 2-3 Ohio Valley Conference) was in a situation where it had to go for the first down, facing 4th and 10 on the Panther 39, trailing 30-24.
Quarterback Michael Birdsong couldn't find an open receiver and tried to scramble for the yardage, but EIU's Jermiah Rainey and Nick Horne brought Birdsong down after he picked up seven yards, short of what the Golden Eagles needed, securing the 30-24 final.
Tech led 17-3 with 1:39 left remaining in the first half, before the Panthers were able to score 10 points in the final 19 seconds as EIU scored on a Kimble 15-yard pass to Dennis Turner. On the kickoff, the Panthers forced a fumble at the Tech 28 and was able to get into field goal position to make it a 17-13 Tech lead at halftime.
"We had chances to close the game out and we didn't do it," said Tech head coach Marcus Satterfield. "When we're up by 14 points with a minute to go in the first half, we have to finish the game off. It's simple as that.
"The momentum totally got zapped away from us. We should have gone in up 17-3, but we didn't. But in the fourth quarter, the magic pill kicked in again and we started to think 'hey, we're pretty good,' and we started playing again, moving the ball down the field. We just came up a little bit short."
The Panthers rolled up 523 yards of offense on 78 plays, led by Devin Church with 139 rushing yards on 25 carries as well as six catches for 54 yards. Quarterback Mitch Kimble threw for 323 yards on 21-of-36 passing with touchdown passes to Dennis Turner and Paul Gossage.
Birdsong led Tech with 17 carries for 53 yards, while also passing for 294 yards on 26-for-38 with a touchdown pass to Jordan Smith, who had seven catches for 80 yards.
Tech pulled together for 427 yards of offense on 70 plays and controlled possession for 33 minutes.
The Golden Eagles, however, saw two of their major standouts go down as Kip Patton and Yeedee Thaenrat both leave the game with injuries. In their place, Andrew Goldsmith ran nine times for 45 yards and a touchdown, while Dontez Byrd had six catches for 60 yards.
Patton ended the game with three catches for 48 yards, while Thaenrat ended the game with four carries for 25 yards and a touchdown, while also catching four passes for 39 yards.
Nick Madonia also kicked a 43-yard field goal to add to Tech's scoring, improving his streak on field goals to eight.
Defensively, Brandon Thomas intercepted a Kimble pass at the Tech 1 to prevent an EIU score. Clay Davis and Josh Poplar led the Golden Eagles with 15 tackles each, while Deontay Wilson and Elliott Normand each recorded double-digit stops with 11 and 10 respectively.
Nick Bruno hit three field goals for the Panthers (5-2, 3-1 OVC), connecting from 28, 29 and 23 yards.
Darshon McCullough also had a one-yard touchdown run for EIU.
Up next for the Golden Eagles, Tech hosts Southeast Missouri on Saturday in its annual Homecoming contest. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.