Whether it was a 12-point first-quarter deficit, an injury or an interception, nothing was going to stop the Southern Illinois football team from bouncing back Saturday.
The Salukis (3-1) allowed only three second-half points and got their offense rolling after a slow start to improve to 2-1 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play with a 30-22 victory at Youngstown State.
“I expected a game that was going to be a grind,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “It didn’t go like you’d draw it up, but they just stuck together. When you win, you’ve got to enjoy them.”
Down 12-0 in the first quarter and 19-13 at halftime, SIU got its run game going behind sophomore Romier Elliott (97 yards) while sophomore quarterback Nic Baker passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another in the victory.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from Saturday’s game:
- The Salukis are resilient
After losing its season opener, SIU bounced back with a victory against No. 1 North Dakota State. On Saturday, they erased a slow start, outscoring the Penguins, 30-10, over the final three quarters. “It starts with the people you have in the locker room,” Hill said of his team’s resilience. That includes senior defensive end Anthony Knighton, who had surgery Tuesday for a thumb injury, practiced Wednesday and played in the game Saturday. “I don’t think he came off the field today,” Hill said.
2. Nic Baker doesn’t flinch
After Baker threw a second-quarter interception in his own territory that led to a touchdown and a 12-0 YSU lead, the SIU quarterback led consecutive touchdown drives. His 17-yard touchdown run with 25 seconds remaining in the first half trimmed Youngstown’s halftime lead to 19-13. Baker clinched the game with a 37-yard fourth-quarter TD pass to Landon Lenoir.
“You’re not going to rattle Nic,” Hill said. “The kid has something. If he throws a pick, he doesn’t lack confidence the next series.”
Junior wide receiver Avante Cox, who played high school ball with Baker, said “his No. 1 thing is he doesn’t dwell on it. It’s next play up.”
3. Run defense has its moments
YSU junior running back Jaleel McLaughlin ran for 72 first-quarter yards and posted 124 yards and two touchdowns against the Salukis. Along with quarterback Mark Waid’s 73 rushing yards, the Penguins piled up 203 yards on the ground. “I don’t believe we’ve played our best game yet, which says a lot,” said SIU linebacker Bryson Strong, who posted nine tackles and a sack.
News and notes
Hill, a former SIU quarterback, said Saturday’s victory was his first ever at Youngstown as a player or a coach. … Defensive back James Ceasar had three pass breakups in the victory for SIU. … Youngstown State started the game 7-for-7 on third-down conversions. The SIU defense held the Penguins to five successful conversions on the last 12 tries.
What’s up next?
SIU returns to Carbondale for a noon matchup on Saturday, March 13 against Northern Iowa.