3 things we learned: SIU playoff hopes dealt damaging blow with last-second loss

Southern Illinois’s Romier Elliott breaks a tackle from Missouri State defender Lucas Eatman.
Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader

Southern Illinois saw its FCS playoff drive dealt a severe setback with a 30-27 loss to unranked Missouri State Saturday afternoon.

Jose Pizano kicked a 33-yard field goal with no time remaining to lift the Bears to victory.

Missouri State, which entered the game just outside the Top 25 rankings as the second unranked team receiving the most votes, will likely move into the poll when it is announced Monday. Meanwhile, SIU will surely fall from the Top 10.

The loss leaves SIU at 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Missouri State improves to 4-4 overall and 4-1 in the league.

The 10th-ranked Salukis fell behind early, built a sizeable lead and then suffered the defeat in a back-and-forth second half to the home-standing Bears.

“I’m disappointed in the performance,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said on siusalukis.com. “It starts with me — finding the buttons to push. We just haven’t played a consistent brand of football. If we want to be the team we want to be, we have to come down here and beat this team.

“You have to be able to line up, go out and will yourself to win. We didn’t do it.”

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from SIU’s defeat.

  1. SIU’s playoff bid is in jeopardy

After suffering its second consecutive loss and third overall, SIU is certainly on shaky ground when the FCS playoff committee announces its 16-team field in mid-April.

Two weeks ago, SIU dodged a loss when normally reliable Northern Iowa kicker Matthew Cook missed a potential game-winning field goal and the Salukis sweated out a 17-16 win in Carbondale. There was no such good fortune Saturday in Springfield, Mo.

SIU — which was throttled 44-3 by Top 5-ranked South Dakota State 44-3 last weekend — lost an opportunity for another win when Illinois State announced it was opting out of the spring season. The Salukis were scheduled to play the Redbirds April 3 in Normal.

SIU has used the notion it was snubbed by the playoff committee in 2019 as a motivating rallying cry. That fall the Salukis played well down the stretch and posted a 7-5 record; moreover, they were 5-3 in the Missouri Valley, considered by most to be the top FCS conference in the nation.

Should SIU win its remaining game and finish 5-3, the Salukis will once again be at the mercy of the selection committee.

2. A second-half swoon cost SIU a victory

The Salukis built a 19-7 halftime lead, only to see Missouri State outscore them 23-8 in the second half.

The game see-sawed back-and-forth with each team seemingly snatching the victory from the other.

Missouri State rallied to score three touchdowns in the game’s final 20 minutes.

The Bears tied the score at 27 with 2:42 remaining on a 23-yard TD run by freshman Celdon Manning.

“They were able to just line up and run the football, which has kind of been a trend (against SIU),” Hill said. “It’s extremely hard in this league to get going if you can’t line up and run the football. It starts and stop with us being able to run the football.”

Pizano’s game-winner capped a 16-point fourth quarter for Missouri State; the Bears manufactured scoring drives of 51, 75 and 50 yards in the final 7:13. Missouri State put up points on four of their last five possessions.

After a 112-yard first half, the Bears gained 265 in the second half.

3. Surrendering big plays & committing bad penalties burned Southern

Following the tying touchdown and extra point, Missouri State forced SIU to punt. The Bears were then greatly aided by a roughing the passer penalty by senior defensive end Chucky Sullivan as quarterback Matt Struck threw an incompletion on first Bear play from their own 25.

Later in the drive, Saluki defensive back James Ceasar was whistled for pass interference.

Missouri State ultimately completed its six play-drive with the game-winning field goal.

Missouri State opened the game by jumping on top 7-0 when Struck connected with Manning on a 75-yard touchdown on the first snap of the game.

Going into the game, Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino had played coy and did not name a starting QB.

News & notes

Javon Williams, Jr., slowed by nagging injuries for much of the spring season, was a true dual-threat against Missouri State. He rushed for 36 yards and threw for another 41 and a touchdown on a 4th-and-4 play . . . Saluki quarterback Stone Labonowitz — who began the season as the third-stringer despite being a starter in 2019 — was efficient in the first half completing 14-of-18 passes for 135 yards and a TD. Labonowitz finished the day 25-of-34 for 270 yards with two touchdowns . . . SIU botched a field goal that would have increased its second-half lead when a bad snap forced holder Jack Colquhoun to pick up the ball and throw a desperation pass that was intercepted . . . running back Justin Strong led SIU with 96 receiving yards, including a weaving 28-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown . . . It was the third straight Missouri State win over a ranked opponent; the last time the Bears accomplished that was 1989 . . . The victory propelled Missouri State into a four-way tie for first place in the Missouri Valley alongside North Dakota State, North Dakota and South Dakota State

What’s next?

SIU hosts rival Western Illinois April 10 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. WIU lost to No. 22 Northern Iowa 34-20 Saturday.

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