By Charles Post / WLAA
The Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-1) pulled off an upset over the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1), winning their third consecutive game over the Big Ten.
The Eagles jumped out to a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter and held on for a 34-31 victory as place kicker Chad Ryland knocked in a game-winning field goal as time expired. Mike Glass III was electric all day long, totaling 316 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“The whole game, I was constantly talking to God. I had my faith in him and he was the reason I was able to make the plays I made. I was able to see the field very well. We all believed in each other and we knew what we could do and we came together and did it,” Glass said. “It’s just from preparation during the game. We have some great guys on the offensive line. We had to work hard and play hard and it came down to a field goal and Chad made the play. You dream big, you play big.”
Both teams got off to quick starts on the offensive side as Illinois took a 3-0 lead on a 57-yard field goal by James McCourt. Eastern Michigan answered back less than two minutes later as Glass marched down the field, finding Arthur Jackson III on a 26-yard score. Both defenses struggled for the rest of the quarter as the Illini scored two more touchdowns before the period ended. Eastern Michigan’s Matthew Sexton also added a 54-yard score of his own. Illinois led 17-14 after the first.
The second quarter was all EMU as they retook the lead with another passing touchdown. Glass hit Jackson on a post route in the end zone and he came down with a leaping catch. From that point on, the Eagles defense adjusted and looked a lot more comfortable defending Brandon Peters and the Illinois offense. With 4:43 left in the half, Eastern Michigan added to their lead as Ryland knocked through a career-high 52-yard field goal. EMU held a 23-17 lead at the break.
The third quarter was sloppy for both teams as Illinois turned it over twice and Eastern Michigan lost a fumble as well. Peters was hit in the backfield and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Brody Hoying. Hoying won the MAC West Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Kentucky. EMU would give the ball back, though, when Bryson Cannon caught a ball over the middle before losing it. Eastern’s defense continued to make big plays as Korey Hernandez picked off Peters.
The offenses woke back up in the final period, which began with a four-yard touchdown run from Eagles running back Willie Parker. Eastern went for a two-point conversion and Glass connected with Sexton on a successful crossing route.
EMU held a 31-17 lead with 11:20 remaining, but Peters led two straight touchdown drives, tying the game with less than two minutes left. Glass looked at ease for EMU, moving down the field and setting up a 24-yard field goal for Ryland to win the game.
“It feels great. It feels great to come back and beat these guys. The atmosphere of the guys on the sideline, just really being all onboard. There is no negative energy. They’re all like ‘You got it,’” Ryland said. “We’ll take it. Honestly there was no pressure going out there. I just have so much trust in them with the snap and the hold and those guys up front protecting. I know that if I stick to what I can do, and make sure that ball goes straight, it’s going in. There was no doubt or pressure going out there.”
The Eagles are 2-1 on the season and will go home for their home opener against Central Connecticut State on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Rynearson Stadium. ESPN Football Power Index gives the Eagles a 96.6% chance to win the game. Following that, the Eagles will have their bye week.
Illinois begins Big Ten play next weekend as they host Nebraska.