Illinois State finally got the quick start it needed. The problem is virtually everything that happened afterward.
The Redbirds, plagued by poor first halves the past three games, jumped out to a 10-0 lead but ultimately fell 28-23 at Indiana State in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind.
The result is the death knell for Illinois State's hopes for the playoffs. The Redbirds--ranked No. 22 in last week's STATS FCS poll--have lost four straight games and stand at 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the MVFC.
Conversely, Indiana State has won four consecutive league games. The Sycamores are a remarkable comeback story. Winless a year ago, head coach Curt Mallory's team stands at 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference.
Turnovers turn tide
Leading 10-0, Illinois State committed two costly turnovers that changed the complexion of the game.
First, with the Redbirds seemingly in command and driving into Indiana State territory, running back Markel Smith fumbled. Indiana State recovered and scored quickly, thanks to a pair of strong runs by Titus McCoy.
On the Redbirds' next possession, deep in Sycamore territory, Illinois State quarterback Brady Davis threw a bad interception. Reading the play from the middle of the field, Indiana State safety Denzel Bonner broke on the ball and picked it off.
Davis then made things worse by grabbing Bonner's face mask on the return. Once the penalty was marked off, Indiana State took possession on the Illinois State 25-yard line.
The Sycamores again cashed in for a touchdown. Indiana State quarterback Ryan Boyle lofted a five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dante Jones II, who made a leaping catch despite tight coverage by Illinois State freshman defensive back Charles Woods.
Key Sycamore stop
Indiana State made a key defensive stop on a fourth-and-two play near the end of the third quarter. The Sycamores rose up to keep Illinois State's leading rusher James Robinson from gaining the first down. Robinson appeared to be headed for the necessary yardage, only to have Indiana State linebacker Jonas Griffith stand him up at the Sycamore 32.
Indiana State then drove for a touchdown, putting the Sycamores up 28-17. Boyle kept the drive alive with an improvised chuck off a scramble on third down. The ball was caught by Dakota Caton, who got just enough yardage to convert the third-and-nine play.
On the next snap, Boyle again found Caton, this time for a 25-yard touchdown. The extra point gave Indiana State a 27-17 lead with 12:18 left in the game.
After missing last weekend's loss at Northern Iowa with a shoulder injury, Brady Davis returned as Illinois State quarterback.
Davis went 25-for-41 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. The Memphis transfer also threw two interceptions.
Davis threw a 15-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Spencer Schnell with 27 seconds remaining in the game. However, on the two-point conversion attempt, Davis scrambled all over the field before lofting a pass into the end zone that fell incomplete.
Indiana State recovered Illinois State's onside kick attempt, ending any chances the Redbirds had left.
Junior back James Robinson passed 1,000 rushing yards on the season. The Rockford native netted 73 yards on 20 carries in Saturday's loss.
Meanwhile, two Redbird receivers broke the 100-yard mark in the game.
Senior Spencer Schnell led Illinois State with 11 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Andrew Edgar had eight receptions for 104 yards.
5 Stats that mattered
3 — Illinois State turnovers
5 — Indiana State turnovers all season (2 interceptions, 3 fumbles). Last season, the Sycamores turned the ball over 29 times
7 — Illinois State penalties, including two that wiped out long Redbird kickoff returns by Christian Uphoff
132— Career-high rushing yards by Indiana State's Titus McCoy
205 — More total yards Illinois State had compared to Indiana State (488-283)
Illinois State closes its season by hosting Youngstown State at Hancock Stadium in Normal. Kickoff is at noon.