3 things we learned: SIU gets creative, snaps home losing string

3 things we learned:  SIU gets creative, snaps home losing string
Avante Cox (11) made a key play with the help of teammate Landon Lenoir (17) in SIU's win Saturday against UT Martin. (photo courtesy of siusalukis.com)

Southern Illinois accomplished something Saturday that the Salukis didn't all of last season--win at home.

Trailing by two touchdowns and with its starting quarterback out with an injury, SIU rallied for a 28-14 victory over UT Martin before nearly 9,000 fans at Saluki Stadium.

The win boosted Southern's record to 2-1; UT Martin dropped to 1-2.

"We really couldn't have scripted it any worse the way we started the football game," said SIU head coach Nick Hill. "But the type of guys we have in the locker room, they found a way."

Here are three things we learned from SIU's comeback win:

     1. The 1-2 punch of Williams and Davis sparks the Saluki offense.

When SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz injured his shoulder on the first Saluki drive, running backs Javon Williams, Jr. and D.J. Davis picked up the load.

Williams, a redshirt freshman coming off conference player of the week accolades last Saturday, ran for 138 yards. Davis, who moved into third place all-time in career all-purpose yards at SIU, chipped in 101 rushing yards.

Davis, a senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., now has eight 100-yard rushing games in his last 14 outings.

2. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

SIU began the game determined to run the ball. In fact, the Salukis started the game with no receivers and two extra tight ends. On several plays, 320-pound guard ZeVeyon Furcon lined up at fullback, as did 253-pound defensive end Jordan Berner.

"We have to mix things up and use our personnel the best we can," Hill explained. "Sometimes that's three running backs, sometimes that's Javon at quarterback."

With Labanowitz hurt, Hill inserted transfer Kare Lyles in at quarterback and continued to be creative with his offense.

Williams often ran from the Wildcat formation. The Centralia native carried 22 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including both of Southern's second-quarter scores that knotted the game, 14-14, at halftime. He burst through the line of scrimmage for a 25-yard TD run with 3:22 to go in the second quarter.

"Good things happen when the ball's in 15's hands," Hill said. "When the lights are on, he's not going to shy away, he wants the ball in his hands."

 Lyles completed 10-of-13 passes for 92 yards, though he got off to a shaky start by throwing an interception on his first pass and fumbling the ball on his second pass attempt.

However, he settled down and made accurate throws, including a 34-yard connection to Avante Cox late in the fourth quarter on third-and-6 that ended any UT Martin comeback hopes.

3. If you win, they will continue to come.

SIU opened Saluki Stadium in 2010. Southern holds a 25-25 home record since its gates first swung open. However, SIU had lost seven straight home games heading into this year.

Saturday's Family Weekend crowd of 8,983 — the biggest crowd at Saluki Stadium since Homecoming in 2016 — no doubt enjoyed the outcome as well as the late summer evening. 

A season after losing all five home games, no doubt Hill is both relieved and happy as well.

"I saw a lot of great leadership on the sideline, a lot of guys who weren't going to accept what was going on," Hill said in the postgame.

What's next?

The Salukis play their second FBS opponent of the season when they travel to Arkansas State.

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