Entering this season many pundits tabbed Southern Illinois as its surprise team, one perhaps ready to contend for a playoff spot. Following a third straight one-score loss, the surprise is that things have gone the other direction for the Salukis.
SIU suffered a frustrating 17-14 defeat at Youngstown State Saturday night. The Salukis fell to 1-4 on the season and 0-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. YSU (2-3 overall) evened its conference record at 1-1.
"I hate it for the guys in the locker room," SIU head coach Nick Hill said afterward. "As a coach, you hate it when a hundred guys show up and give you everything they've got, competed, they do everything for you. You want to do something for them so they can have that winning feeling."
Hill's Salukis led for most of the game. Moreover, SIU appeared to have made a game-winning stop on defense with a 14-6 lead and five minutes left. Youngstown State quarterback Montgomery VanGorder underthrew a fade route pass that SIU safety Joe Patteron leaped high to intercept in the end zone. Patterson, however, was flagged for pass interference to give YSU first-and-goal at Southern's four.
"I thought Joe Patterson played it just like we would tell him," Hill said. "The receiver didn't know where the ball was, he hadn't got his head around yet, Joe Patterson picks it off, two hands up in the air, high-points the ball."
The play shifted the game's balance as YSU scored a touchdown three plays later. The Penguins then converted a successful two-point conversion to tie the game, 14-14, with 4:36 remaining.
After Southern failed to move the ball on its next possession, a short punt set Youngstown State up at the SIU 39. The Penguins ran eight plays, eating up most of the clock, and then Zak Kennedy kicked the game-winning 34-yard field with just 26 seconds remaining.
The Salukis began the night down seven starters and lost five more during the game. Remarkably, on the final drive, the team played with four different defensive backs than the ones who started the season.
In addition, with SIU senior Sam Straub out with a concussion suffered in last week's loss to South Dakota, Matt DeSomer made his second career start at quarterback.
DeSomer completed 12 passes for 105 yards and was sacked four times.
"We're fighting our tails off and fall short," said DeSomer, a fifth-year senior. "I feel like it's been like this since I've been here. I know Coach wants to change the program around and I do, too. I just hate losing."
DeSomer scored on a quarterback sneak early in the fourth quarter to put Southern up, 14-6.
DeSomer began last season as a safety and moved to quarterback after Straub was felled by an injury to his throwing hand. DeSomer started the season finale against Western Illinois.
"I thought Matt came here and competed and did a good job," Hill said. "He was efficient with what we did. It was only his second start of the year and not being the guy whose taken all the reps all year long. I'm sure there's some things he wished he could have back and there's some things I wish I could have called to get him in some better spots. He didn't turn the ball over, rushed for a hundred yards, made some big throws, picked up some big first downs."
SIU's defense allowed just 293 total yards and recorded 10 tackles for loss, two interceptions and three sacks. The defense was flagged five times for pass interference.
Southern played most of the second half without its best player on defense. Safety Jeremy Chinn was ejected during the third quarter for targeting. According to SIUSalukis.com, a replay available in the press box did not show any contact with the helmet. Chinn created two turnovers before his ejection, deflecting one pass into the arms of teammate Airan Reed and intercepting another pass to stop a Youngstown drive just before halftime.
"I thought our defense played great," Hill said. "Goal line stands, turnovers, sacks, making people feel uncomfortable, didn't give up the big play for a touchdown. I really couldn't think of a better performance out of these guys."
5 Stats That Stood Out
0 – Touchdown passes in the game
3.6 – Yards-per-play to which Southern Illinois held Youngstown State
11 – Southern Illinois penalties for 108 yards
42 – Combined completion percentage by the two teams (SIU 12-28; YSU 15-36)
100 – Net yards rushing by SIU quarterback Matt DeSomer
Southern Illinois travels to Illinois State for a Missouri Valley game. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.