After a tough stretch to start the season the Eastern Kentucky University football team got on track Saturday night, riding big nights from quarterback Bennie Coney and wide receiver Devin Borders to knock off Southeast Missouri 31-16 at Roy Kidd Stadium in Richmond. The Colonels improved to 2-3 on the year and 1-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play.
The senior duo was in sync all night. Coney completed 23-of-37 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns, a week after breaking his own EKU record with 464 yards in a 33-30 overtime loss to Tennessee Tech.
Borders burnt the Redhawks’ secondary for seven catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
“Now that we’ve been together a few years we’ve got some good chemistry,” said Coney of his rapport with Borders. “We just say, ‘Go out there and play ball, you go out there and win your matchup and I’m gonna put the ball where it needs to be.’”
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Both the offense and defense got off to shaky starts against the Redhawks. On their first drive the Colonels faced 2nd and 1 from their own 44-yard line when Coney underthrew Ryan Markush, then overshot a deep ball to Borders, who had caught the safety out of position.
On the ensuing Southeast Missouri drive the EKU defense allowed two third-down conversions, including a 20-yard completion on third and eight. But the Colonels caught a break when Redhawks quarterback Jesse Hosket barely overthrew Tremane McCullough, who was streaking down the left hash marks wide open. The ball bounced off McCullough’s outstretched fingertips as he dove into the end zone and SEMO settled for a 50-yard field goal from Ryan McCrum.
Sophomore running back Ethan Thomas tore through the middle of the Redhawks’ defensive line on the Colonels’ next drive and ripped off a 51-yard run. Coney took a quarterback keeper down to the SEMO 1 yard line on third down, but Thomas was stonewalled in the backfield on fourth down.
McCullough fumbled at the end of a 42-yard catch and run and Colonels defensive back Nigel Bethel recovered. After EKU took over, Coney fumbled a shotgun snap and the Redhawks got the ball right back inside the red zone.
But the Colonels’ defense dug in and forced its first three-and-out of the night after the turnover and the Redhawks settled for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.
“The defense did a hell of a job,” said Coney. “I thought they went out there and made up for our mistakes. So we tip our hats to those guys, they go out there and get stops when we need them.”
Something clicked with the Colonels’ offense after that. On the next drive Coney led a 16-play, 83-yard drive in which he completed four third-down passes and eventually hit Borders for a 7-yard touchdown that he ripped out of a defender’s hands.
The Colonels suffered a bad-luck turnover on their next possession when Coney’s pass went through the hands of Bryan Green and was intercepted. But the defense stood tall once again and forced a punt with less than two minutes to play in the half.
That led to a brilliant two-minute drill by the Colonels that went 91 yards in 1:26. Coney completed five of seven passes for 87 yards on the drive, including a 33-yarder to Ryan Markush and an 18-yard touchdown to Cameron Fogle on a corner route near the back-left pylon, giving the Colonels a 14-6 lead.
Eastern wasted no time in the second half, striking quickly with a three-play drive that took less than a minute and ended with a perfectly thrown 56-yard strike from Coney to Borders for a 21-6 Colonels lead.
“Bennie did a great job,” said first-year Colonels head coach Mark Elder. “He threw the ball downfield for some big plays, and he’s been doing a great job as far as decision-making … he’s certainly been nothing but a team guy and has done a tremendous job of being a leader and executing our offense really well.”
The Redhawks appeared gassed on both sides of the ball the rest of the way, managing just one more field goal and a garbage-time touchdown with less than four minutes to play.
“We’ve been working our butts off for this win,” said Coney. “If we would have went 0-2 it would have been ugly … because that puts you far behind. But we went out there and got that victory, and I’m glad we didn’t put ourselves in that position.”
The Colonels travel to Tennessee State next week then head home for a big matchup with OVC favorite Jacksonville State, which has knocked off the Colonels the last two years. First place in the conference was on the line in both contests.
Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee State
7 p.m. Saturday