Eastern Kentucky football holds off Morehead 24-17

RICHMOND — The biggest call in the game went Eastern Kentucky's way.

It was the call that led to the first touchdown of the game as the Colonels went on to edge Morehead State 24-17 Saturday, their fourth consecutive home-opening win at Roy Kidd Stadium.

Morehead Coach Matt Ballard didn't blame the outcome on an official.

"You've got to give credit to Eastern Kentucky tonight," Ballard said. "On two different occasions when they really needed or had to respond, they said, 'we're taking this football and we're going that way,' and we couldn't stop them. And that's the difference in the ball game."

Tied 3-3 early in the second quarter, EKU (1-1) faced fourth-and-inches at the Morehead 22.

Quarterback T.J. Pryor fumbled the snap. Somehow the ball squirted through a pile of players to Morehead's John Coleman — but the play had quickly been blown dead.

The down was replayed, with Pryor running wide for 2 yards and a first down.

Two plays later, Pryor passed to Paul Henry for an 18-yard touchdown. Pryor finished 13-for-22 for 148 yards.

As for the fumble that wasn't, "the official looked me in my eye and said, 'No. 40, I'm sorry. You played really hard on that play. If I would have (not) blew the whistle, that would have been the other way. But we missed the call so we're going to have to redo the down. I apologize," said linebacker Dillion Blackburn, whose 18 tackles were one shy of a Morehead record. "And as they were kneeling the ball down here at the end (of the game), he was almost in tears and he said, 'I'm sorry. That call was my fault and I know it could have made a different outcome in this game. You guys played your heart out.'

"I couldn't agree more. It's a tough break but we played our heart out and I'm really proud of our guys."

Trailing 10-3 at halftime, Morehead tied on a 23-yard pass from Zach Lewis to Kevin Thomas midway through the third quarter.

Eastern answered in eight plays, including six runs. The last of those was a 2-yard TD burst by Matt Denham for a 17-10 lead.

Denham, who sat out the rest of the game with a hamstring injury, finished with 166 yards on 34 carries. That pushed his career rushing total to 2,062.

"A milestone is just the hard work I put through — the barriers I've been through and the obstacles I've had to overcome to get there," Denham said, "so it means a lot to me."

With Denham watching, Zavier Foster (81 yards on 16 carries) and Deshaun Sands (33 yards on five carries) carried the load.

Eastern Kentucky finished the night with 282 rushing yards. Morehead State had just 9 yards on the ground.

Foster's 5-yard touchdown with 6:17 left pushed EKU's lead to 24-10.

"That's Colonel football right there," Coach Dean Hood said. "That's running the ball, controlling the clock and making plays down the stretch when you have to."

The Eagles (1-1) scored quickly — a 6-yard Lewis-to-Thomas toss with 2:46 left.

Lewis ended up 28-for-42, good for 294 of Morehead's 313 total yards. Donte Sawyer had nine catches for 101 yards.

But an onside kick traveled only 8 yards and EKU ran out the clock.

Stanley Absanon and Anthony Brown led the EKU defense with six tackles each. Brandon Stanley had five, including a sack, plus an end-zone interception of a ball targeted for Sawyer.

"I didn't know he was that far open," Stanley said. "I just saw the ball in the air and tried to go attack, and tried to shield him from making the catch."

■ EKU leads the all-time series 50-16-4 and has won the last seven meetings.