Seeking that first elusive win of the season proved to be even more evasive than Western Illinois head coach Jared Elliott even imagined.
Despite working overtime--actually three overtimes--WIU fell 37-31 to Missouri State Saturday at Hanson Field. The loss means that the Leathernecks remain winless at 0-5. Missouri State gained its first victory and stands at 1-3. It was the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams.
"The effort, physicality I was really, really proud of, but we didn't make enough plays at the end of it," Elliott said afterward. "At the end of the day, we had plenty of chances to win, even in regulation. We've got to get back to work, and that's what we'll do. It hurts. Our guys battled tonight, and there was a relentless spirit. For that, I'm really proud."
Here are three things we learned about the Leathernecks:
1. The return of Max Norris boosted the Western offense.
Hampered by injury since preseason camp, senior running back Max Norris saw his first action of the season Saturday and made the most of it. Norris not only returned to action but also surpassed his 1,000th career rushing yard.
Norris carried a heavy load with 17 carries for 40 yards while scoring twice. The Greenwood, Ind. product also caught three passes for 63 yards. Thus, Norris recorded a game-high 103 all-purpose yards
"[Max] laid it all out there today," Elliott said. "He ran the ball with a different mindset and mentality, and just an edge in physicality. That's what makes Max great. Our offense fed off of that today. It's important of who we are, and having Max back helped us in more ways than one."
2. Defensive miscues burned the Leathernecks.
Western surrendered 429 yards and 26 first downs to Missouri State, allowing the Bears to erase an early 14-0 Leatherneck lead.
Missouri State scored both on long drives--a seven-play, 72-yard jaunt and a 13-play, 93-yarder--and quick strikes. The Bears grabbed a 21-14 lead on a 41-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter.
Missouri State scored its two overtime touchdowns on runs of 25 and 22 yards respectively.
Despite the Bears fumbling four times, Western only recovered one--which Leatherneck defensive lineman Kyle Williams returned 10 yards for the opening score.
Missouri State threw 44 passes in the game but was not intercepted. The Bears averaged 7.2 yards per attempt.
3. WIU just can't seem to catch a break.
As with any losing streak, the weight of the world seems to settle on one's shoulders. For the second time this season, the Leathernecks were forced to delay home games because of bad weather.
The start of Saturday's game was pushed back nearly an hour due to lightning. WIU's Sept. 21 home opener was also delayed by heavy rain and lightning.
Following its three-game homestand, WIU travels to Indiana State for noon game with the Sycamores.