Records continue to fall for the Western Illinois football program. Yet, that doesn’t always translate into wins as the Leathernecks dropped their Saturday home finale to nationally ranked South Dakota.
Senior receiver Dennis Houston broke the WIU single-season record for receptions, but the Leathernecks lost 42-21 to the playoff-hopeful Coyotes. South Dakota was ranked 23rd in last week’s STATS Perform FCS poll.
The defeat puts Western’s record at 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. South Dakota, coached by former WIU head man Bob Nielson, improved to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from Saturday’s game.
- Records don’t always equate to wins
This fall has been a record-setting offensive season in Macomb. Yet, many of WIU’s history-making days have resulted in losses.
Saturday saw Houston break the single-season reception record set by current Canadian Football League standout Jaelon Acklin. Houston moved past Acklin’s 84-reception mark set in 2017 by catching his 85th pass of the season.
Houston accomplished the feat in just 10 games with one more contest left on the WIU schedule. Houston leads the FCS in receptions (96), receiving yards (1,161) and receptions per game (8.7).
In addition, quarterback Connor Sampson moved into second place on the all-time WIU list for career pass completions.
Sampson, a senior, has notched 703 completions. Sean McGuire, a former teammate of Sampson, holds the record at 771. Like Acklin, McGuire plays in the CFL.
Sampson completed 29 of 51 passes for 361 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted twice. Sampson was sacked five times.
“One of the key things was that the defense was able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback, making him feel uncomfortable and forcing him out of the pocket,” said Nielson, who coached at WIU from 2013-15.
“He’s a really good football player,” Nielson said of Sampson, “he showed that today, but we did a good job of keeping the ball in front of us and I think the difference in the game is we made more big plays than they did.”
2. Explosive plays again burn the Leathernecks
South Dakota’s offense used big plays to build a 14-point halftime lead and then to pull away for the victory.
The Coyotes opened the scoring with a 91-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Carson Camp to redshirt freshman Carter Bell.
Bell later added a 60-yard TD reception. Bell caught five passes for a career-high 182 yards – all in the first half – and leads South Dakota with five touchdown catches this season.
Meanwhile, running back Nate Thomas earned Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week for the second time this season by rushing for a game-high 110 yards.
Thomas, an Illinois native and Thornwood High School graduate, accounted for half of South Dakota’s 220-yard ground game against the Leathernecks. His longest run was a tackle-breaking, 46-yard rumble up the middle, and his 4-yard touchdown plunge was the first score of the second half.
3. Turnovers often turn the tide
A turnover fueled the South Dakota onslaught.
Western held a 14-7 lead in the second quarter and forced a 3-and-out to quickly get the ball back. However, with the Leathernecks near midfield South Dakota linebacker Jack Cochrane undercut a Sampson throw and made a diving interception.
“Big play, big momentum play,” said Nielson. “We talked about winning the turnover margin and we did that today.”
The Coyotes cashed in with the 60-yard touchdown strike to Bell 60 off a slant pass. The TD and extra point tied the game and WIU never led again. South Dakota reached the end zone on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter and took a 28-14 lead into halftime.
“There were several things that we just did not do well enough to give ourselves a chance to win that game,” WIU head coach Jared Elliott said on goleathernecks.com.
News & notes
The two teams accounted for 951 yards of total offense. South Dakota produced 479 yards while WIU racked up 472 . . . Senior Adam Fellner had a season-best 69-yard punt. The punt tied for tenth-best in program history . . . Senior Tony Tate and freshman Ludovick Choquette each set season-highs in receiving yards, with 115 and 86 respectively . . . The Leathernecks honored 23 seniors before the game . . . South Dakota quarterback Carson Camp, an Illinois native and Normal West High School graduate, returned to the starting lineup after being injured in a loss to Illinois State two weeks ago completed 13-of-21 passes for 246 yards.
Western enters a bye week, followed by its regular-season finale at Northern Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 20.