One of the biggest head-scratchers of the game was a long kickoff return by Shaquille Hill, who dashed 93 yards for an apparent touchdown late in the first quarter.
After Illinois State took a 10-7 lead, Hill caught the ball at his own 7-yard line, ran straight ahead and down the left sideline and into the end zone. The scoreboard reflected the score, Eastern 13, Illinois State 10, with a PAT to come.
It turns out that Hill reached the end zone, but without the football, which he casually dropped at the 1-yard-line. Television replays confirmed the fumble, but not before officials picked up the ball after prematurely concluding that Hill had scored.
Meanwhile the ball rolled into the end zone. Officials should have let the ball alone, leaving it to be recovered either by the Eagles for a touchdown or by the Redbirds for a touchback.
But because the ball was inadvertently picked up by the officials, the only possible ruling was a dead ball, officials said after the game. Eastern was given a choice: possession at the 1, where the ball was fumbled, or replaying the kickoff.
Eastern took the ball at the 1, eventually settling for a field goal that tied the game at 10-10.
Three hours later, the Eagles could afford to joke about a play that cost them four points
“I can tell him what everyone else is telling him,” head coach Beau Baldwin said.
“He was excited and he dropped it. I just told him to be ready to hand it to the ref the next time he’s in the end zone.”
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