Football: Running game leads Ohio to victory over Eastern Illinois

Ohio quarterback J.D. Sprague runs with the ball on Saturday afternoon. Ohio defeated Eastern Illinois, 34-19. Photo by Carl Fonticella.

Ohio quarterback J.D. Sprague runs with the ball on Saturday afternoon. Ohio defeated Eastern Illinois, 34-19. Photo by Carl Fonticella.

The backfield tandem of J.D. Sprague and A.J. Ouellette combined for four touchdowns on the ground to lead Ohio past Eastern Illinois, 34-19, on Saturday at Peden Stadium.

Ohio scored on its first three possessions to jump out to a 21-3 lead, and the Panthers couldn’t come closer than 11 points for the rest of the afternoon.

“It feels good to get into a rhythm early,” Sprague said. “I made some plays, but I left a lot out there.”

Sprague, making the first start behind center of his collegiate career, completed 15 of 28 passes for 143 yards and two interceptions, but Sprague, a  redshirt sophomore, showcased his running skills with 69 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, the second of which came when he circled the Eastern Illinois defense and eventually crossed the goal line for an eight-yard score.

“I didn’t really think I was going to score,” Sprague said of his winding touchdown. “It just kind of happened.”

Ouellette had 87 yards on 11 carries, including a 65-yard run in the second quarter, before exiting the game with a minor ankle injury. Ouellette, a freshman, rushed for two touchdowns for the second consecutive week.

Grant Cunningham blocked a Panther punt just prior to halftime, allowing Ohio (3-2, 1-0 MAC) to add a Josiah Yazdani field goal – one of his two in the game – before the half expired. It was the first blocked punt for Ohio since 2009 against Ball State.

Quarterback Jalen Whitlow was a one-man attack for Eastern Illinois (1-4, 0-2 OVC). Whitlow completed 30 of his 46 pass attempts for 289 yards and a touchdown. Whitlow added 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His top target, Adam Drake, reeled in six catches for 90 yards; Anthony Taylor caught Whitlow’s lone touchdown pass and finished with 43 receiving yards.

“I thought our guys controlled him well,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said of Whitlow. “He had a lot of yards, but we’re not concerned with yards. We’re concerned with points.”

Landon Smith caught five passes for 53 yards for the Green & White. Jordan Reid had four receptions for 52 yards.

Daz’ Patterson didn’t carry the ball until the second half, but he averaged 7.8 yards per carry and finished with 39 yards. Patterson also had a 45-yard kick return that was one broken tackle short of an easy touchdown.

“It was good to see him have a good game,” Solich said of Patterson. “Every opportunity that he got, he made the most of it.”

“As the game went on, we gained control of it,” Solich said. “I thought it was an excellent win for our guys.”

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