ISU Redbirds host WIU Leathernecks as both seek first win of spring

Illinois State defensive end Romeo McKnight pressures Western Illinois quarterback Connor Sampson in the 2019 game. (photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

Perhaps an unusual spring calls for an even more unusual football season.

When Illinois State hosts Western Illinois Saturday, each rival is still seeking its first victory of this pandemic-driven, Missouri Valley Football Conference-only schedule.

Each team enters the game with an 0-3 record. After losing their opener to then-unranked South Dakota, the Redbirds have suffered narrow defeats to then No. 3-ranked Northern Iowa and No. 5 North Dakota State.

WIU, meanwhile, dropped a hard-to-stomach opening Saturday loss to Missouri State (30-24) at home and then were pummeled by then-No. 8 South Dakota State and No. 3 North Dakota.

Historical perspective

The last time Illinois State started this far into a season without a win was 2001 when Denver Johnson’s Redbirds began the fall 0-7. ISU ended 2-9.

In 2019, Western lost its first eight games. The Leathernecks finished 1-11 with its lone victory coming 38-34 over South Dakota at WIU’s Hanson Field.

The last time Illinois State and Western Illinois met winless? 1906, sort of. That year, Western did have a previous win but it was over Macomb High. It was common practice at the time for colleges to play local high school or club teams. ISU entered the Nov. 10 matchup with two losses and a tie. Illinois State prevailed 18-0.

An added footnote to put things into further perspective—that’s the same fall the White Sox defeated the Cubs in the World Series.

Kickoff moved up an hour

Speaking of baseball, Saturday’s kickoff has been moved from noon to 11 a.m.

The game time has been modified to allow for Marquee Sports Network to broadcast the game prior to Chicago Cubs spring training baseball later that day.

The series

The Redbirds and the Leathernecks will meet for the 103rd time with WIU leading the all-time series 51-48-3 dating back to 1904. The Redbirds have won nine out of the last 10 meetings, including a 28-14 win in Macomb in 2019.

Leatherneck news & notes

Third down has been an issue for the WIU offense. The Leathernecks are 11-for-40 (37.5 percent) on the season . . . Senior Dennis Houston led the team with 108 receiving yards on eight receptions last weekend; it marked his third career game with 100-plus yards. He leads the MVFC and ranks third in the nation with 8.7 catches per game . . . Quarterback Connor Sampson completed 33 passes, the third most in Western’s single-game history, against North Dakota. He holds the top three marks after posting 34 in the season-opener against Missouri State and 34 at Illinois State a year ago. He finished Saturday’s game 33-for-47 with 336 yards . . . Senior Adam Fellner booted a 71-yard punt in the first quarter, the seventh-longest in WIU history. 

Redbird news & notes

Redshirt freshman Nigel White ran for a career-high 87 yards against North Dakota State, with a long run of 32 yards . . . Tight end Tanner Taula led ISU with four catches for 50 yards and scored his second career touchdown . . . Linebacker Brandon Simon, who began his collegiate career at Iowa, was the top Redbird tackler with nine, while Charles Woods added eight stops to go along with two interceptions . . . True freshman Jackson Waring took his first snaps at quarterback in a brief relief of starter Bryce Jefferson . . . ISU head coach Brock Spack is just two wins away from tying Howard Hancock for the program’s all-time wins record (86). Spack is 10-2 against WIU.

Where to find this game

Illinois State (0-3) hosts Western Illinois (0-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The game is available on Marquee Sports Network and both schools’ radio networks.

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