DeKALB – Eastern Illinois wanted to go all-in.
Dino Babers’ Panthers open their Ohio Valley Conference season next week against Eastern Kentucky. In the grand scheme of things, that contest is more important than Saturday night’s 43-39 loss to Northern Illinois at Huskie Stadium.
Still, Babers’ team left it all out on the field Saturday evening. EIU got off to a 20-0 lead, and Babers did not hesitate to roll the dice numerous times.
On Eastern’s first drive, Babers went for it on fourth -and-3 from his own 47-yard line.
The drive ended when EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Erik Lora, and the Panthers went for two. Garoppolo’s pass, however, was incomplete.
As Babers put it, his team was all-in. He knew there would have to be some gambles if his squad was going to defeat an FBS team.
“Beginning of the week, I asked the football team how they wanted to play this game. They said they wanted to go all-in. And I asked them if you’re sure, we could lose some [players] and it could cost us an OVC championship,” Babers said. “And they said they were sure, ... we weren’t hesitant on how we were going to play it. We played it like a normal game to win. And we just came up short.”
EIU was on the road, against a team which had a 21-game on-campus winning streak and played in a BCS bowl game last season. Risks were going to be taken.
After their first touchdown, the Panthers recovered an onside kick. Garoppolo didn’t waste much time, hitting Adam Drake for a 43-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
The Panthers would convert a 4th-and-2 on their next drive, again in their own territory, and scored to go up 20-0. All in all EIU was 2 of 4 on fourth down, including a failed fake punt.
“Coming into the game, some fan told me that we were 17-point dogs,” Babers said. “I figured we were going to have to make up the 17 points some kind of way, so I thought going for it on fourth down a couple of times might be a good idea.”
NIU head coach Rod Carey knows where Babers is coming from. His team converted a successful fake punt in the season-opening victory over Iowa, and Carey’s offense had nearly a 75 percent success rate on fourth down last season.
The gambles have worked out for NIU recently, and Babers’ risks helped EIU get off to its big lead in a game which featured 1,179 yards of total offense.
“They got us with that onside kick. That was a good call by them,” Carey said. “I kind of laughed. We’ve been doing that to people and they did it to us.”