By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – There must be something about O'Brien Field when it comes to quarterbacks.
The field saw Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo put up huge numbers. Even Grant Swallows, back in 2001, saw some magic there as he set the Tech single-season touchdown record.
The record, tied again by Swallows and by Stephen Britton in 2005, stood for 18 years, until Bailey Fisher also found some magic at O'Brien.
The Golden Eagle sophomore threw for a school-record six touchdown passes as Tech improved to 4-1 for the first time since 2011, as well as broke a seven-game losing streak to Eastern Illinois with the last win coming in that same year with a 40-29 victory over the Panthers.
"Bailey Fisher is the real deal," said Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander. "We kind of have a running joke, but it's true. I tell him there's two guys on the team who really can't afford to have a bad day – the head coach and the starting quarterback. He's been holding up his end so far and I'm trying to uphold mine. I'm very proud of him and he's an amazing leader.
"The thing about Bailey is that responds. He may make a mistake or two – he probably tries to make too many plays some times because he thinks he can make them all – but at the end of the day, he comes back and responds. He's playing at a high level and I'm glad he's our quarterback."
Fisher threw touchdown passes to four different receivers as Austin Hicks and Darrius Stafford each caught a pair, D.J. Wilkes had one as he dove over the end zone, then Tavin Kilpatrick caught the record-breaking pass late in the fourth quarter.
"It's a great feeling," Fisher said, "but I couldn't do it without the guys blocking for me and making the plays. I had guys who made some fantastic plays tonight, at all positions really. Everyone's contributing and that's what we need to have a good offense.
Yet, the sophomore was humble. He wasn't thinking about the touchdown total that was climbing. He was more concerned about the two interceptions he threw and moving on to the next play.
"The thing we have to learn is to finish things," Fisher said. "The last two games, we gave teams chances to come back. We want to be that team that once we put them down, we want to put them away."
In all, he ended the contest with 269 yards passing on a 22-of-34 effort, adding 29 yards on the ground for 298 yards of total offense, officially cracking the top 10 career-wise in just his 15th career game. Fisher now stands at ninth in career passing with 2,929 yards and 10th in total offense with 3,424.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence," Fisher said. "We're competing and playing with energy. Our coaches say we have to have more energy than the other team and we're doing a great job of that."
The defense certainly played its part, getting the Tech offense in great position. The Eastern offense couldn't contain Aderick Moore – neither could his uniform as it ripped in the second half – as he ended the game with seven tackles, one for-loss, forced two fumbles, intercepted a ball and returned it 20 yards and hurried the quarterback – all after missing last week's game after an injury against Virginia-Wise.
"I'm really proud defensively," Alexander said. "Aderick Moore – wow, was it great to have him back out there tonight. There were three big turnovers that he caused – an interception and two caused fumbles. We had a lot of energy and got some defensive confidence as we scored twice on drives started by turnovers."
Tech finished the game with 328 yards of offense and controlled the ball 31:16. The Panthers (0-5, 0-1 OVC) collected 401 on 94 plays, 22 more than the Golden Eagles ran. EIU quarterback Harry Woodbery ended the game with 334 yards on 34-of-68 passing with touchdown passes to Xander Richards and DeWayne Cooks. Jaelin Benefield also rushed for a team-high 46 yards and two touchdowns.
"This is two tough back-to-back road trips for us," Alexander said. "It was eight-and-a-half hours plus a rain delay before we got back into Cookeville last week. We came back this way this week – seven hours to the hotel, an hour drive to the field on game day – but our guys really came out here and competed well. We knew we were going to get a great effort out of Eastern Illinois. I have a great respect for (EIU head coach) Adam Cushing and his staff are doing. He's got their guys playing hard. They will get there – they have some guys banged up and injured. We knew we were still going to get their best effort. They had this game circled as their OVC home opener.
"Obviously, we love making things exciting for our fans back home just in case you were getting ready to nod off, doze off or think the Golden Eagles have this one in the bag," Alexander said. "We liked keeping everyone hanging around on the radio dial as far as finishing games. The great thing is we are 4-1, 1-0 in OVC play and we still know as players and coaches that we have a lot of room to get better. We're still making a lot of mistakes, but we're doing a lot of good things too."
The Golden Eagles (4-1, 1-0 OVC) return to action on Saturday as they travel to Southeast Missouri for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Photo by Tony Marable