Saluki Rally Shocks Leathernecks, Ruins WIU Playoff Plans

Saluki Rally Shocks Leathernecks, Ruins WIU Playoff Plans
SIU players celebrate their victory over rival WIU (photo couresty of SIUSalukis.com)

Football seasons have often been described as roller coaster rides. In the case of Western Illinois, this fall’s descent from the initial climb never found its expected upswing.

In mid-October Western Illinois appeared destined to host a first-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game. Head coach Charlie Fisher’s Leathernecks raced to 5-1 start and were the talk of the FCS.

However, a late-season losing streak–capped by Saturday’s devastating 44-34 loss at Southern Illinois–ended the reality of WIU even making the 24-team playoff field.

Western held a 31-14 lead early in the third quarter and seemed well on its way to a seventh victory of the season and a berth in the FCS playoff bracket. But head coach Nick Hill’s Salukis fought back, first with a Matt Sotiropoulos field goal and then with a Jonathan Mixon touchdown run to slice the WIU lead to 31-24.

The Leathernecks upped the lead to 10 when Nathan Knuffman kicked a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. However, Knuffman also missed a 35-yard attempt that seemed to breathe fresh life into the Saluki sideline.

The game turned on a flurry of downfield passes as SIU used its aerial game to rally past Western.

Saluki sophomore Sam Straub connected with senior Billy Reed on two passes–the first for 37 yards and the second for a 43-yard touchdown. In just 23 seconds, Southern was within three points of Western.

After the SIU defense held and forced WIU to punt, Straub burned the Leathernecks again. Receiver Isra Lamprakes got behind the Western secondary and hauled in a 70-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, Southern had the lead and control of the game with 5:16 remaining.

SIU sealed the game when freshman Jeremy Chinn intercepted a Sean McGuire pass intended for star Western receiver Lance Lenior. Five plays later, Mixon broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run. WIU’s slim hopes died when Ryan Neal intercepted McGuire.

Post-Game Fallout

The win was the second in three weeks for SIU. The Salukis end the season at 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the MVFC.

After its 5-1 start, WIU lost four of its last five games. The Leathernecks end the season at 6-5 overall and 3-5 in the MVFC.

Players of the Game

SIU quarterback Sam Straub overcame three interceptions and a fumble to pass for a school-record 450 yards and four touchdowns . . . Isra Lamprakes caught 11 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns . . . Jonathan Mixon rushed 12 times for 96 yards and two scores . . . senior Billy Reed had eight catches for 138 yards.

Lance Lenior, the all-time leading receiver in MVFC history, capped his brilliant WIU career with seven receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown . . . linebacker Brett Taylor recorded a game-high 15 tackles, seven of them solo . . . Sean McGuire threw for 337 yards and three TDs but was also intercepted three times.

Quoteable

“What a game. What a way to end the season. It’s one thing to talk about–going out the right way, sending your seniors out, a momentum builder for your program, all that kind of stuff. It’s easy to talk about it, but it’s tougher to go out and do. It’s tough to believe when you’re down 17 points.”

–SIU head coach Nick Hill

“Football is such a game of momentum. You always live on the edge, all of us do. As far as momentum, a couple of plays after we got the 31-14 lead, they hit a couple of plays there and you always worry about momentum. If a team swings it, they got it and we could never get it back on our side. Obviously we had a chance there in the fourth quarter driving to go in, but we couldn’t put the ball in the endzone and missed the field goal. The game probably had a lot to do with it.”

–WIU head coach Charlie Fisher

Noteable

The 17-point comeback marked the largest deficit overcome for a Saluki win since a 21-point comeback over Northern Illinois in 2007. SIU head coach Nick Hill was the quarterback for the Salukis in that game.

By the Numbers

2   Interceptions by WIU defensive back Xavier Rowe

11   Tackles by SIU’s Chase Allen, playing in his final collegiate game

12   WIU seniors playing for the last time

15   Consecutive years that SIU has beaten a ranked opponent

18   Seniors SIU loses to graduation

341   Combined receiving yards by SIU’s Isra Lamprakes (203) and Billy Reed (138)

604   Total offense yardage for SIU

The Series

SIU beat Western Illinois for the 13th time in the last 15 meetings. WIU leads the all-time series 35-22-4. The Leathernecks also lead the series in Carbondale, 17-12-1.

 

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