16th-ranked Missouri State blasts by ISU Redbirds with explosive second half

Illinois State sophomore receiver Jabari Khepera (7) had a career-high five catches for 107 yards in the Redbirds’ 41-20 loss to Missouri State. (photo courtesy Mara Best/The Vidette)

A week after seeing a 17-point second half lead disappear in a loss at Top 10-Southern Illinois, Illinois State again wilted in the final 30 minutes as another nationally ranked team left the Redbirds in the dust.

Missouri State — ranked No. 16 nationally — shut ISU out in the second half and won 41-20 at Hancock Stadium in Normal.

“We’re leaving plays on the field, that’s the frustrating part of it,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said on the radio postgame. “We’re used to being really dominant on defense and we’re not there right now.”

The win lifted Missouri State to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Illinois State slipped to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the league.

Missouri State accumulated 513 yards of total offense. Bear quarterback Jason Shelley threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard nail-in-the-coffin fourth quarter toss.

“Not a day that we’re happy with,” ISU linebacker Kenton Wilhoit said afterward. “We need to focus on the details and finishing.”

Here are three things that Prairie State Pigskin learned:

  1. The good, the bad & the ugly of freshman QB

Illinois State freshman quarterback Jackson Waring tasted all of the above against a veteran Missouri State defense.

A week after Spack said the Redbirds didn’t lose its game against SIU in Carbondale because of the play of Waring, that certainly again held true.

Waring looked like a difference maker in the first half. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, the true freshman from Ankeny, Iowa had pass plays of 30, 24, 59, 23 and 17 yards as the Redbirds trailed by a point at the break.

However, without a successful running game to ease pressure brought by the Missouri State defense, Waring struggled at times after halftime.

Bear defensive back Montrae Braswell intercepted Waring and returned the errant throw 46 yards for a touchdown with 7:11 left in the third quarter. Braswell, a transfer from FBS Cental Michigan, has three interceptions on the season and six in the last 11 games.

“Jackson’s first interception for a touchdown was not a wise throw,” Spack said. “He’s not been doing that. He’s been pretty good with the ball and trying to force something. He tried to do too much when we can punt (if he throws the ball away).”

After Illinois State senior defensive back Jarrell Jackson set the Redbird offense up on the Missouri State 20 with an interception, Waring was intercepted in the end zone on a third-down pass.

Waring — making his second straight start after replacing the injured Bryce Jefferson against Eastern Illinois two weeks ago — finished the day with his first career 300-yard passing day (318). He was sacked three times.

2. Targeting turning point

Illinois State’s leading tackler Shannon Reid was ejected from the game at the 9:31 mark of the second quarter.

Reid, a transfer from FBS Tennessee, led with his shoulder and struck the helmet of Missouri State receiver Xavier Lane, who stayed on the ground for several minutes after the play.

It was Reid’s second targeting ejection of the season, the first coming in the season opener against Butler. Redshirt freshman Jacob Bellizzi — who prepped at Maine West High School — took Reid’s linebacker spot.

Following Reid’s departure, Missouri State capped a nine-play, 77-yard drive to take a 14-13 lead.

3. Special teams mayhem

The Redbirds continued to suffer from mishaps on special teams.

For the second time in three weeks, ISU senior JT Bohlken had a punt blocked. Saturday’s came at the 11:03 mark of the third quarter.

Missouri State cashed in on the short field as senior Tobias Little scored his third rushing touchdown of the game, boosting the Bears’ lead to 27-20.

Both teams’ kicker sustained failed point-after-touchdowns. ISU gave up a blocked PAT after its first TD; Missouri State missed wide left after taking a five-yard penalty on a third quarter score.

Missouri State kicker Jose Pizano missed a pair of field goal attempts to go along with his missed PAT.

Illinois State appeared to have given up a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half, but a Missouri State penalty nullified the score.

News & notes

Missouri State limited Illinois State to 40 net rushing yards on 30 attempts (1.3 per yard average) . . . Spack was honored at the end of the first quarter for becoming Illinois State’s all-time wins leader, a feat he accomplished two weeks ago against Eastern Illinois. Saturday was the first ISU home game since its Sept. 4 season opener against Butler at Hancock Stadium . . . The Redbirds converted only 4-of-13 third downs . . . Missouri State, meanwhile, were successful of 8-of-13 third down attempts . . . Sophomore Jabari Khepera, who entered Saturday with with three catches for four yards, hauled in a career-high five receptions for 107 yards and a 75-yard touchdown . . . Illinois State again wore a throwback logo decal on its helmets to celebrate 125 years of Redbird football.

What’s next

Illinois State enters a bye week before turning to action by hosting North Dakota State Saturday, Oct. 16. It also marks ISU’s homecoming.

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