Nationally ranked South Dakota State exploded for 21 points in the third quarter to pull away from Western Illinois in a 41-17 decision at Hanson Field in Macomb.
The Jackrabbits, ranked seventh in the Stats Perform media poll and eighth by the Football Championship Subdivision coaches, improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley. WIU dropped to 1-6 overall and 1-3 in the conference.
“For the entire game, I was proud of how hard our guys played,” said WIU head football coach Jared Elliott on goleathernecks.com. “It was a much better start from our team overall, which was needed, of course. We still had some critical mistakes that cannot afford to happen against a team like South Dakota State.
“We tackled better at times and tried to make it a one-dimensional game. At the end of the day, we simply didn’t make enough plays.”
Here are three things we learned following WIU’s loss:
- Western Illinois can start fast
For most of this season, the Leathernecks have fallen behind early and had to play catchup football.
Saturday proved to be different. After South Dakota State took a 7-0 lead, Western Illinois scored the next 10 points over a four-minute span to take its lone lead of the game.
It also marked the first time the Leathernecks had led a game in the first half this season.
Senior wide receiver Dennis Houston tallied for the first points for the Leathernecks on a 12-yard end-around touchdown and Mason Laramie booted a 43-yard field goal into a brisk wind.
Houston tallied a game-high 14 receptions for 71 yards.
SDSU has scored first in all six games this season; the Houston touchdown for WIU marked the first points the Jackrabbits surrendered in the first quarter in 2021.
2. South Dakota State remains explosive
A week after letting a 20-0 lead disappear and losing to Southern Illinois, South Dakota State rebounded in a big way.
Leading 13-10 at halftime, SDSU got rolling with a blocked punt touchdown.
Although Western Illinois answered with a 15-yard touchdown run by Myles Wanza on its next drive, the Jackrabbits quickly regained the momentum with two touchdowns less than three minutes apart later in the quarter.
The Jackrabbits have scored 40-plus points in all six games this season.
3. SDSU stepped up its second-half defense
South Dakota State limited WIU to 84 yards of total offense in the second half and held a 370-237 advantage for the game.
The Jackrabbits sacked WIU quarterback Connor Sampson four times.
SDSU’s offense was spread nearly evenly as quarterback Chris Oladokun completed 17-of-25 passes for 195 yards and the Jackrabbits gained another 175 on the ground.
Jaxon Janke caught a career-high nine passes for 101 yards to lead the receiving corps.
News & notes
Dennis Houston’s 14 receptions were a season-high and ties for the second-best single-game clip in Leatherneck history . . . WIU quarterback Connor Sampson was 29-of-51 passing for 207 yards . . . Sampson’s 51 attempts were his second-most in a single game this season . . . Sampson sits at 200 completions on the season . . . South Dakota State leads the all-time series, 12-5, and has won the last four meetings.
WIU returns to its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule Saturday, Oct. 23 at nationally ranked North Dakota.