Being more than a 'one half' team drives Western Illinois for Saturday's home finale

Western Illinois safety Darius Joiner (1) is the national FCS leader in solo tackles. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

Beating in-state rival Illinois State last weekend provided plenty of satisfaction for the Western Illinois football team.

But it was how the Leathernecks knocked off ISU, 38-31, that satisfied Western’s players the most.

“Last week, we just put more than a half together,” said WIU senior safety Darius Joiner, the team’s leading tackler and the national leader in solo stops. “The whole season, we’ve been a one-half team. We’d put one half together and then we’d fade away.

“Last week, we brought it all together and put an almost full game together,” he said. “I don’t even feel like that’s our best. Hopefully (our best) will be this week.”

Western limited the Redbirds to 10 second-half points in the victory while forcing two punts and two fumbles in the second half. ISU managed 103 yards on its final five drives of the game combined in the Missouri Valley Football Conference win.

At noon on Saturday, Nov. 6, the Leathernecks (2-7 overall, 2-4 MVFC) play their home finale at Hanson Field in Macomb against South Dakota (5-3, 3-2), which is ranked No. 21 in the American Football Coaches Association poll this week.

The Coyotes bring an impressively balanced offense to Macomb. USD has rushed for 1,500 yards behind three different backs and passed for 1,487 yards this season.

“When you’re facing a team with a lot of balance, there’s a lot to prepare for,” Joiner said. “There are a lot of formations to go over on film. You have to be locked in because they can really beat you any way.”

The Western offense, behind record-setting quarterback Connor Sampson, has scored 27 or more points five times this season. Sampson needs only four completions to move into second place all-time at WIU in that category.

With two games remaining, Sampson needs 343 yards to become only the fourth player in Western history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. He has 20 touchdown passes this season, only seven away from the school record of Matt Barr, which was set in 2010.

News and notes

Protecting Sampson has been an issue for the Leathernecks this season. According to the FCS STATS Perform Twitter account, Sampson has been sacked 30 times, the second-most of any quarterback in the nation this fall. WIU ranks 115th nationally (among 123 FCS teams) in sacks allowed this fall. South Dakota’s defense, on the other hand, is No. 12 in the nation in sacks (3.12 per game) and ranks 42nd in tackles for loss per game at 5.9. … Joiner leads the nation this week in solo tackles with 7.1 per game. Fellow WIU safety Mike Lawson ranks third at 6.6. Joiner is tied for first in total tackles per game (12.1) while Lawson ranks 20th in the FCS at 9.6. … Before kickoff, the Leathernecks will celebrate Senior Day and send off 24 players for their final home game.

Where to catch the game

The Leathernecks kick off Saturday, Nov. 6 against MVFC foe South Dakota at noon. The broadcast will air on ESPN-Plus. For the radio call, visit the WIU home page on Mixlr.com.

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