3 things we learned: Same old story for WIU as slow start, big plays lead to defeat

Connor Sampson threw for a career-best 449 yards Saturday against Indiana State, but another slow start led to a 37-27 WIU loss. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

A week after going toe-to-toe with one of the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s most powerful offenses, Western Illinois struggled Saturday to contain the league’s lowest-scoring attack.

The Leathernecks fell behind by two scores in the first quarter and never recovered in a 37-27 loss against Indiana State, a team that was averaging only 13 points a game this season before Saturday’s contest in Terre Haute, Ind.

The loss overshadowed a career-best passing day for WIU senior quarterback Connor Sampson, who finished with 449 yards and four touchdown passes. While putting up the third-best passing day in WIU history, Sampson threw for 282 yards in the second half with Western trailing.

Western (1-5 overall, 1-2 MVFC) gave up 219 rushing yards to the Sycamores – led by Peterson Kerlegrand’s career day of 178 yards and two touchdowns – and an efficient passing day from quarterback Anthony Thompson, a Northern Illinois transfer, that allowed Indiana State to build a 24-7 halftime lead.

The Leathernecks were coming off a 31-30 overtime loss to No. 8 Southern Illinois in Macomb last weekend.

But Saturday, they sputtered early offensively and were under constant pass rush pressure from Indiana State.

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Western Illinois loss:

  1. Control up front

While using its offensive line to control the run game, Indiana State also got a big day from its defense, especially up front. Senior defensive lineman Inoke Moala had 3.5 first-half sacks of Sampson. The Sycamores (3-3, 1-2) finished with six sacks and 10 quarterback hurries on the day.

Despite being pressured most of the first half, Sampson posted a career-high 36 completions.

2. Big day for big plays

Western’s defense was repeatedly hurt by big plays. On the day, Indiana State posted 13 different plays of at least 10 yards. Already leading 17-7 in the second quarter, the Sycamores used a 59-yard Kerlegrand scoring run to take a 24-7 lead into halftime.

Less than 4 minutes into the second half, ISU running back Phazione McClurge grabbed a short swing pass from Thompson, got a key block and raced 88 yards for a 31-7 lead. Thompson was very efficient, connecting on 15 of 21 passes for 226 yards and two TDs. Tight end Zach Larkin also was a key weapon with four catches for 72 yards and a TD for the Sycamores.

3. Slow starts a habit

After the Leathernecks used big second-half rallies to beat Youngstown State and take Southern Illinois to overtime the past two weeks, they endured yet another slow start in Terre Haute. They managed only four first downs in the opening quarter.

Down 10-0, they allowed a blocked punt that set Indiana State up with good field position, which they turned into a 17-0 lead.

On the season, Western has scored only 28 first-quarter points in six games. In turn, the WIU defense has allowed 80 points to opponents in the first quarter.

News and notes

Nineteen of Western’s 30 first downs on the day came in the second half. … As part of Sampson’s career day, wide receivers Dallas Daniels and Tony Tate had big efforts. Daniels caught seven passes for 143 yards. Tate caught eight passes for 109 yards and a score. Leading receiver Dennis Houston also caught eight passes. … WIU safety Darius Joiner had a game-high 11 tackles, while fellow safety Mike Lawson and linebacker Greg Benton Jr. each had a sack. … Before Saturday’s victory, Indiana State was coming off consecutive blowout losses to South Dakota State (44-0) and South Dakota (38-10).

What’s next?

Western Illinois hosts defending national FCS runner-up South Dakota State at noon Saturday, Oct. 16 in Macomb.

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