Becoming just another number in North Dakota’s State historic FCS winning streak might have seemed like destiny for Southern Illinois on Saturday.
After all, the Salukis had plenty of reasons why beating the powerhouse Bison would be a challenge, including:
- Starting backup quarterback Nic Baker, who had never made a collegiate start, in place of injured starter Kare’ Lyles
- Running backs Javon Williams Jr. and Romier Elliott still nursing off-season injuries
- The leftover sting of its 44-21 season-opening loss at unranked North Dakota the previous week
- Entering the game as a nearly 17-point underdog
- Adding North Dakota State after the Missouri Valley Football Conference revamped its schedule when Indiana State chose not to play this season
- Limited preseason practices because of February storms
All of those excuses, however, didn’t matter one bit to the Salukis, who pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history in their 38-14 triumph and wound up on ESPN’s SportsCenter and as a major headline on every online sports website and ended the Bison’s 39-game win streak.
SIU head coach Nick Hill said his belief in the team was clear when the Salukis hit the practice field the day after its loss and then again before the game against NDSU while talking to the team before the game.
“I look around the room and I see a lot of good, developed players,” he said after the game. “And I have total confidence in them.”
Along with the headlines and highlights on national networks, the victory brought Hill, a southern Illinois native, rewards such as 305 text messages from former players and teammates.
“I appreciate all of them,” he said Monday in his weekly press conference. “That brings me a lot more happiness being from here.”
Hill admitted he got plenty of joy from watching the celebration rather than being at the center of it.
“It’s fun to see the players celebrate, the assistant coaches, and see them get rewarded for sticking to the process,” he said. “That’s my goal and vision to bring a lot more wins like that in the future.”
But perhaps the biggest prize was a postgame pizza with his wife and two young daughters and an early bedtime.
“Those are special moments,” he said of his family. “I think I was in bed by 8:45.”
News and notes
The Salukis (2-1) went from unranked last week to No. 11 on Monday in the STATS Perform national poll. NDSU fell from No. 1 to sixth in the rankings. … SIU sophomore quarterback Nic Baker was named the Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. In his first career start, the Rochester, Ill., native was 17-for-23 passing for 254 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against NDSU. … Hill said senior quarterback Kare’ Lyles, the team’s starter before getting hurt against North Dakota, will be out a “couple more weeks” with two broken ribs. Baker will be the starter this weekend at Youngstown State.