Courtesy of Illinois State Athletics
NORMAL, Ill. - Illinois State wide receiver Marvon Sanders turned in his third consecutive 100-plus yard receiving effort, but Southern Illinois' 342-rushing yards compared to ISU's 69 proved to be the difference, as No. 23 SIU beat No. 19 ISU, 38-17, Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium.
Sanders led the Redbird offense with eight catches for 104 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Matt Brown was 15-for-28 with 149 yards and one touchdown, while Erik Smith was ISU's leading rusher with 52 yards on the ground. Southern Illinois' Shariff Harris led the SIU offense with 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
After the Redbirds (3-2, 2-1 MVFC) were forced to punt on their first possession, Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-0 MVFC) scored with 8:30 left in the first quarter. Quarterback Chris Dieker carried the ball 13 yards for the touchdown to cap off a 10-play, 77-yard drive. With the extra point, Southern Illinois took a 7-0 lead.
The Redbirds went three-and-out on their next possession, fumbling the ball on third down and recovering it on their own 1-yard line. After a 33-yard punt, Southern Illinois started its drive on ISU's 34-yard line. But the ISU defense held the Salukis to a 23-yard field goal by Kyle Dougherty to make it 10-0 SIU with 3:06 to play in the first quarter.
ISU went three-and-out again, and as Steven Fetzer attempted to punt the ball, Southern Illinois' Luke Thuston blocked the punt and returned it eight yards for a touchdown. It was the first time a blocked punt has been returned for a score against Illinois State since Southern Illinois did it Oct. 6, 2001. A Saluki extra point made it 17-0 with 1:10 to play in the first quarter.
The Redbirds got on the board for the first time with 12:20 to play in the second quarter. On third down and five, from SIU's 28-yard line, Brown connected with Marvon Sanders for a touchdown for the second time this season. Fetzer's extra point completed the 9-play, 74-yard drive to make it 17-7.
Then ISU's defense stepped up, as E.J. Jones recorded his third interception of the season, picking off Dieker's pass at the ISU 23-yard line, but the Redbirds only managed to advance the ball to their own 37-yard line, before ISU had to punt on fourth down. But the ISU defense again forced a Southern Illinois turnover as Dave Rivas picked off Dieker's pass at the ISU 22-yard line and returned it 14 yards with 1:33 to play in the first half. It was the first career interception for Rivas.
Illinois State proceeded to march the ball down the field, and as Brown attempted to hit Tyrone Walker in the back of the end zone with 22.5 seconds to play in the first half, defensive pass interference was called against Southern Illinois, placing the ball at the SIU 2-yard line. But on the next play, Brown's pass was intercepted by Stephen Franklin, and the Salukis ran out the clock to make the halftime score, 17-7.
SIU started the second half with the ball, and facing fourth down and three from Illinois State's 28-yard line, backup Saluki quarterback Paul McIntosh picked up the first down on a 7-yard carry. Four plays later, SIU's Kyle Dougherty attempted a field goal, which missed wide to the left. But SIU got the ball right back, as Illinois State's Ashton Leggett fumbled and Sothern Illinois's Luke Thuston recovered at ISU's 16-yard line. The Salukis capitalized with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Dieker to Matt Guinn to make it 24-7, SIU with 8:19 to play in the third quarter, following the PAT.
On ISU's next possession, the Redbirds cut into the SIU advantage as Fetzer connected on a 39-yard field goal with 4:46 to play in the third quarter. Fetzer's kick capped off an 8-play, 48-yard drive which made it 24-10 Southern Illinois. The Redbirds' defense held SIU scoreless on its next possession, and as Southern Illinois attempted to punt for the first time in the game, from its 39-yard line, Marcus King blocked the punt and Mike Hiestand returned the ball 28 yards for the touchdown with 17.9 seconds left in the third quarter. The extra point was good, and ISU closed the gap, 24-17.
But Southern Illinois added onto its lead with 12:01 to play in the game on a nine-play, 81-yard drive resulting in a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Harris. The PAT made the score 31-17. Illinois State proceeded to go three-and-out, and the Redbirds were forced to punt. The Salukis solidified their lead with 5:48 to play on another touchdown run by Harris, a 3-yard carry to cap off a 9-play, 54-yard drive that ate up 5:03 off the clock.
Illinois State is on the road next Saturday for a 2:05 p.m., kickoff at Indiana State for the Sycamores' homecoming game.