When Eastern Illinois opens the season against Hawaii on Aug. 31 at Aloha Stadium, the Panthers will have extra motivation -- but not necessarily because UH beat them 31-27 in the teams' only other meeting, in 1999.
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FIRST OF 13 PARTS
PREVIEW OF HAWAII OPPONENTS
By Dave Reardon
"A revenge thing? I wouldn't say that. We're going out there and hope we're prepared and healthy and can field a competitive team," coach Bob Spoo said. "We have no delusions of revenge being a factor. That lasts for about one play and it's over with. Plus, I don't think we have anyone coming out who was with us last time."
Rather, the Panthers will be fired up because of the way their season ended last fall -- with a loss in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs.
EIU rolled to a 9-1 regular-season record, losing only to Division I San Diego State. But the Panthers fell 49-43 to Northern Iowa after outscoring opponents by an average of more than 23 points in their victories.
"Our season certainly did end too soon," Spoo said. "Now we're telling our guys it's not where you begin, but where you finish."
Eastern Illinois has reason to believe it will finish even better than last year, since 34 letterwinners return, including nine offensive starters. Quarterback Tony Romo (6-3, 215), guard Kevin Hill (6-3, 285) and linebacker Nick Ricks (5-11, 209) have been selected Division I-AA preseason All-Americans.
Tailback J.R. Taylor (6-2, 206) returns after rambling for 1,177 yards and 18 TDs last year. His "backup" is Andre Raymond (5-11, 196), who rushed for 717 yards and 7 scores last fall as a freshman. Spoo said he is devising ways to have both on the field at the same time, including using Raymond as a wide receiver.
"He's an excellent receiver," Spoo said. "We can run him from somewhere out of the backfield or put him out wide."
Raymond caught 21 passes for 309 yards and three TDs in 2001.
With Taylor and Raymond and a veteran line, the Panthers like to run the ball. But Spoo said Romo can make things happen, too.
"Oh sure, we'll put it up as much as we need to. We like to run if we can, but we'll do whatever it takes," Spoo said. "Tony's probably not going to lead the league in passes thrown or completed. But when we do throw it's efficient throwing."
Evidence is Romo's 21 scoring passes last fall compared to six interceptions. He completed 138 of 207 and averaged 206.8 yards a game.
Spoo is concerned with being able to stop Hawaii's passing attack.
"We lost three or four kids off our defensive line, so we have to hope recruiting's taken care of that and some of the young ones will be able to help out right away," he said. "We moved a good linebacker named Fred Miller (6-1, 207) to the secondary, but I don't know if we're going to be deep enough back there. In the next couple weeks we need to get some guys ready."
When Hawaii beat EIU in 1999, it ended a 19-game losing streak, and the program is 21-15 since.
"They weren't very motivated then, in the throes of that long losing streak. But our game turned them around and they're a 100 percent different football team," Spoo said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they're ranked as the season progresses. They're a fine Division I team."
And the Panthers appear to be a fine Division I-AA team, like the one from Portland State that beat Hawaii two years ago.
"I'm not going to say we can do that," Spoo said. "But we're not going to roll over, either. We hope to have a few things go our way, keep it close, and then you never know."
All-time record: 412-436-43
Against Hawaii: 0-1
Now you know: EIU received 11 of a possible 14 first-place votes when the Ohio Valley coaches and sports information directors were polled on who would win the conference championship this year. The Panthers have made the NCAA I-AA playoffs eight times, including the last two years.
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