3 things we learned: ‘State championship’ belongs to stingy Redbirds

3 things we learned: ‘State championship’ belongs to stingy Redbirds
Luther Kirk (14) and his Illinois State teammates swarm a ballcarrier Saturday in the Redbirds' 28-14 victory in Macomb. (Photo by Barry Bottino)

MACOMB -- There’s no trophy or banner involved, but Illinois State’s football team celebrated an important accomplishment Saturday after beating Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Western Illinois, 28-14, at Hanson Field.

The victory put ISU, which is ranked 10th in the FCS coaches poll, at 5-2 on the season and 3-1 in conference play. But it also gave them a 3-0 record against the state’s three other FCS teams, having beaten Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and WIU – all on the road.

“It’s big time,” ISU linebacker Dylan Draka said of the win. “We had a goal of winning the state championship – beating all the Illinois FCS schools. Being able to do that all on the road is a huge credit to us.”

Additionally, the victory was important to Illinois State head coach Brock Spack because of how his team prepared for WIU, which is now 0-7.

“I think we have a good team,” said Spack, whose Redbirds benefited from five WIU turnovers. “They’re smart and they don’t take anybody lightly.”

Here are three things we learned about the Redbirds:

  1. Defense makes a difference … again. Let’s be frank. The Illinois State defense is elite. With Western Illinois throwing out a sped-up, no-huddle offense, the Redbirds leaned on their experience and depth to be the same stingy unit they’ve been all season. Despite WIU running 86 plays and gaining 375 total yards, ISU’s defense created three turnovers and added three sacks to its FCS-leading total of 33. “It’s a credit to our D-line,” said linebacker Dylan Draka, a junior from Wheeling. “They’re really good, so teams are going to try and get the ball out as quick as possible without getting sacked. As the season goes on, we’re definitely going to get better at it.” Spack said Western’s pace was the fastest he’d seen a no-huddle offense run since Eastern Illinois and QB Jimmy Garoppolo were running a speedy attack under former head coach Dino Babers.

    Junior running back Jeff Proctor (7) led Illinois State in rushing yards and receiving yard Saturday against Western Illinois. (Photo by Barry Bottino)

    Junior running back Jeff Proctor (7) led Illinois State in rushing yards and receiving yard Saturday against Western Illinois. (Photo by Barry Bottino)

    2. James Robinson has company. Robinson, the senior from Rockford, has an impressive resume and plenty of All-American credentials. But the Redbirds got valuable contributions from junior Jeff Proctor on Saturday. While Robinson rushed for three touchdowns, Proctor was the leading rusher (14 carries, 81 yards, 1 TD) and had two receptions for a team-best 46 yards. The shifty Proctor had a 40-yard gain on a screen pass in the third quarter and rushed four times for 14 yards on ISU’s 16-yard touchdown drive after an interception in the fourth quarter. “It was just playing our game, and I was able to make a play or two,” Proctor said.

    3. Tricks, no treats. Even when WIU pulled out a wide receiver pass while threatening to tie the game in the first half, junior defensive back Devin Taylor intercepted the pass and returned it 42 yards to set up the Redbirds’ second touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead. “Over the years, they’ve shown trick plays throughout the season,” Taylor said of the Leathernecks. “All week, we preached, ‘Just be disciplined.’” The play was a big shift in momentum for ISU. “It flipped the field, and it was a huge play in the game,” Spack said.

What’s next?

The Redbirds host Indiana State (3-4, 1-2) for Homecoming at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Hancock Stadium.

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