Eastern Illinois quarterback gives Panthers a leg up

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Saturday's Ohio Valley Conference heavyweight battle between powerhouses Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky lived up to its pre-game hype.

Defending OVC champion EIU needed an 8-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tony Romo on the game's final play -- capping a 75-yard drive in 43 seconds -- to squeeze out a 25-24 victory in Charleston, Ill.

The victory by the seventh-ranked Panthers (4-2, 2-0 OVC) was their 10th straight in conference games stretching over three seasons and delivered a blow to the OVC title hopes of the 22nd-ranked Colonels (4-3, 1-1).

"We were very fortunate to say the least," EIU coach Bob Spoo said. "I think they outplayed us."

While the Panthers may have been fortunate, they also had Romo on their side -- which is always a good thing.

Romo, the two-time OVC Offensive Player of the Year, does most of his damage with his arm; he passed for 359 yards and two touchdowns against the Colonels, giving him more than 1,700 yards for the season, but counting sacks he has rushed for minus-17 yards.

But after passing the Panthers deep into EKU territory in the closing seconds, Romo made something happen with his feet as he skirted the sideline and just got the ball over the goal line.

"I never imagined it would take his feet to get us in," Spoo said. "He's about as slow as me, but we're fortunate he was able to do it."

Romo's effort was no surprise to EKU coach Roy Kidd.

"Romo made a great effort. He was going out of bounds, he was leaning out of bounds, but before he went out he put the ball over the goal line," Kidd said. "He's an excellent quarterback. I wasn't shocked by what he did. He'll get my vote for All-American."

Added Kidd, "It was a tough loss. We have to get our players back up. We have to get our coaches back up. Everybody was deeply hurt. I guess everybody was pretty much in shock."

Racers bounce back

Murray State had lost two straight non-league games by a total of four points, but the Racers (2-3, 1-0) bounced back Saturday by rolling past Tennessee Tech (2-5, 0-2) 31-14 in their OVC opener.

"It was a big win for us coming off two tough losses," Murray coach Joe Pannunzio said. "I'm impressed with the chemistry of our team."

The Racers broke a 14-14 halftime tie by limiting the Eagles to 30 second-half yards and one first down while piling up 247 yards over the final two quarters. Murray finished the game with 288 yards rushing.

"It was one of those days where we were clicking, hitting on all cylinders," Pannunzio said.

In another OVC game Saturday, Southeast Missouri State (5-2, 2-0) held off Tennessee-Martin (2-5, 0-2) 50-35 as the Indians piled up 603 yards of offense and stayed undefeated after two OVC contests for the first time in school history.

Outside the league Saturday, the woes continued for Tennessee State (1-6, 0-1) as the Tigers suffered their fifth straight loss, 26-21 at Alabama A&M.

This week's games

What is being billed by coaches as one of the biggest games in school history will be Saturday in Cape Girardeau as Southeast hosts EIU in a battle between the OVC co-leaders.

"We're excited," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "This is what we came here to do, put our team in a situation to play for something like this."

There will be only one other OVC game Saturday when EKU hosts Murray. That contest is also crucial. The Colonels need a win to keep their title hopes alive while a victory by the Racers would keep them perfect in league games.

Tennessee Tech, Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee State are idle this week.

Players of the week

Romo won the league's offensive player of the week award for the second straight time while teammate Nick Ricks earned the defensive honor after the linebacker recorded an astounding 25 tackles -- including 18 solo -- while forcing two fumbles and recovering one.

Southeast quarterback Jack Tomco won newcomer of the week for the second straight time after throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns, both school records, in the win over UT-Martin.

Tennessee State's Carlos Wright earned the special teams award by returning a punt 66 yards for a touchdown in the loss to Alabama A&M.

Marty Mishow covers Southeast Missouri State University and the OVC for the Southeast Missourian.

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