Following a lackluster first half, Illinois State rallied in the second and seemed poised to force overtime. The Redbirds lined up for a would-be game-tying field goal in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams.
But Missouri State cornerback Darius Joseph had other ideas. The redshirt sophomore blocked the kick, giving the Bears one of their biggest wins in program history. Final score: Missouri State 24, ISU 21.
The loss dropped Illinois State from the ranks of the nation's upbeaten. The Redbirds, ranked ninth in last week's FCS poll coming into the game, fell to 3-1.
"A lot of little things didn't go well for us that turned into big things in a tight game like this," ISU head coach Brock Spack said in the postgame. "I told the team this is the Missouri Valley. They've been told that from day one. Any given Saturday, you have to be ready to play and they got a rude awakening."
Missouri State (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) moved into a position to be ranked in the Top 25 come Monday.
"I thought that before the season, to be honest," Bear quarterback Peyton said.
A tale of two halves
Missouri State dominated the first half. The Bears defense allowed just 73 total yards in the first half for a 2.9 yards-per-play average.
Redbirds quarterback Brady Davis--one of the most efficient FCS quarterbacks--completed just 5-of-12 passes for a paltry 37 yards. He was pulled late in the half for Jake Kolbe, the Naperville Central graduate who had started the previous two seasons.
Missouri State outgained Illinois State 248-73 in the first half and built a 10-0 lead.
ISU regrouped at halftime. The Redbirds scored a pair of touchdowns, just 1:11 apart, to grab a 14-10 lead. Both scores came on TD passes to Spencer Schnell from Davis--who returned to the game. An interception by Luther Kirk set up the second score, which came on a pinpoint throw by Davis to Schnell on a drag route.
The ensuing drive by Missouri State was greatly aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on ISU defensive lineman John Ridgeway. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the ISU 22-yard line and ultimately led to the Bears retaking the lead on a short touchdown run.
After forcing ISU to punt, Missouri State drove 80 yards in 10 plays to take a 24-14 lead.
Illinois State threatened on the following drive, getting to the Missouri State seven-yard line.
On fourth and one with 5:15 left in the game, Redbird running back James Robinson was stopped by Missouri State defensive end Matt McClellan for a one-yard loss.
Yet, following a Bears three-and-out, the Redbirds responded. Davis connected with Robinson out of the backfield for a 43-yard touchdown pass to cut MSU's lead to 24-21.
After another Missouri State three-and-out, Illinois State took over possession with 1:27 left on the clock. With no timeouts left, the Redbirds drove 64 yards from their own 21 to have set up the field goal attempt.
5 Stats That Stood Out
2 – Straight Missouri State wins over a ranked opponent--its first such two-game win streak since the 1989 season
3 – Turnovers forced by Illinois State defense (2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery)
16 – Career-high tackles by ISU linebacker Zackary Mathews (10 solo)
23 – Percent of third downs converted by ISU (3-for-13)
136 – Combined rushing yards by ISU tandem of James Robinson and Markel Smith
Illinois State hosts Western Illinois in a Missouri Valley game. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.