Eastern Michigan football survives Alabama State; 2-0 for first time since 1989
By Phil Lozen, for AnnArbor.com
It wasn't always pretty, but the Eastern Michigan football team is 2-0 for the first time since 1989.
Alabama State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, didn’t make things easy, but the Eagles held on for a 14-7 win Saturday afternoon at Rynearson Stadium.
A week after both teams scored 41 points in their respective season-opening wins, touchdowns were hard to come by at Rynearson Stadium.
“I was joking that for an old defensive coach, I kind of like those kind of games,” Eastern Michigan coach Ron English said. “We hurt ourselves a couple times (with penalties), but the guys were playing hard and striking and getting to the ball.”
Despite racking up 397 rushing yards, Eastern Michigan struggled throughout the day to sustain drives, getting into Alabama State territory just four times.
The Eagles opened the scoring on their first drive of the game, moving 80 yards on 12 plays, running the ball on the first six plays.
But it was the passing game that got EMU to paydirt first when Alex Gillett hit Nick Olds for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:47 left in the opening quarter. Gillett lofted the pass over the hands of an ASU defender and Olds leaped to make the catch, just getting his left foot in bounds in the back of the end zone.
The Eagles managed only 67 yards the rest of the half.
The Eastern Michigan defense made up for the lack of offense. The Eagles held Alabama State to 3 rushing yards in the first half, keeping the Hornets from penetrating any deeper than the EMU 38. Senior linebacker Marcus English led the way with seven first half tackles. He finished the game with 10.
After last week’s win over Howard, English said he wanted to see more pressure from his front four. Against Alabama State, Eastern totaled nine sacks and hurried Hornets quarterback Devin Dominguez another 14 times.
Fittingly, the game ended with a sack by Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Brad Ohrman -- his third of the game.
“Against a quarterback that was hard to sack, coach (defensive line coach Ken) Delgado, he knows what he’s doing, and those guys are getting better every week,” English said. “Our team has never hit like that, ever. Now we just have to be smart. What will determine our success is can we win the turnover battle and limit turnovers.”
The front four also helped limit Alabama State to negative-16 total rushing yards.
Although Gillett struggled passing the ball -- he completed 7-of-19 passes for 61 yards -- Eastern Michigan took a 14-0 lead thanks to his legs. His 58-yard scamper to the Alabama State 8-yard line early in the third quarter led to Dominique Sherrer’s 6-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Sherrer finished with 111 rushing yards on 16 carries and Javonti Green gained 146 yards on 22 attempts. It's the second game both of the Eagles' primary ballcarriers have eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
Sherrer later left the game with an injury after a third quarter fumble. The Hornets turned that fumble into their only touchdown of the game, a 22-yard pass from Dominguez to T.C. McWilliams.
Even at 2-0, Eastern Michigan still has some problems to fix. The Eagles were flagged for 12 penalties for 135 yards and gave Alabama State four first downs on penalties. Dominquez was also able to pass for 224 yards even with the constant harassment from the defense.
Despite the remaining issues, English noted the importance of wins for his program.
“I told the guys after the game something that my coach told me -- never turn your nose down at a win,” he said. “I told them at halftime that (Alabama State) knows how to win. I think it will help our team, but I know if we don’t clean up several issues, particularly penalties, we’re going to struggle our next two games.”
The Eagles head into the teeth of their schedule, going on the road to Michigan and Penn State the next two weeks before opening Mid-American Conference play against Akron on Oct. 1.