Courtesy of Western Illinois Athletics
- Western Illinois fell behind early and could not finish the comeback, dropping a 20-10 decision at Southern Illinois on Saturday afternoon. The 21st-ranked Leathernecks dropped to 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Southern (4-6, 3-4) took the opening kick and used 17 running plays to eventually score from two yards out. The Salukis converted two 4th-and-short attempts to keep the nearly nine minute drive alive, capped by Shariff Harris’ 2-yard TD run.
Western went 3-and-out on its opening drive and was forced to punt from its endzone. A 22-yard punt return put Southern into Leatherneck territory. Five plays later Lucien Walker scored from two yards out and a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The Leathernecks drove into the redzone but missed on three pass plays from 1st-and-goal from the 10. Pat Smith converted his first collegiate field goal attempt, a 32-yarder early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing drive Southern drove all the way to the Leathernecks’ 10, facing 4th-and-1 again. This time Ryan Waldron and the defense held Lucien Walker to no gain and the offense took over on downs. However, Western could not convert on 4th-and-7 from the SIU 33 and then eventually ran out of time at the end of the first half.
Southern held the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half, but Western out-gained the Salukis in total yards 182-174.
Late in the third quarter Western forced a SIU punt. Myers Hendrickson’s team season-long 35-yard punt return put the Leathernecks on the 20. Three plays later Matt Barr found Lito Senatus on a 17-yard TD reception, cutting the deficit to 14-10.
That turned into a record-tying touchdown reception for the senior wide receiver, marking his 12th this season (tying Demeris Johnson and Ron Wilson for season record); 19th of his career (tying Steve Williams for career record); and sixth straight game with a TD catch (tying Marvin Williams’ 1972 record).
The Salukis responded on their ensuing drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Chris Dieker to Cam Fuller. However, Kyle Dougherty missed the extra point making it 20-10 with just over 14 minutes remaining.
Steve Strother broke off a 24-yard run into Western territory, but Tyler West stripped the ball and Justin Hamilton recovered. However, the offense was forced to punt with 10:36 remaining.
Another golden opportunity came up short. Barr drove the offense inside Saluki territory. Charles Chestnut made an impressive catch down the left sideline, putting Western down to the three. Barr just missed on a pass in the endzone, then Caulton Ray was stopped for no gain on second down. The Salukis sacked Barr again, this time a 21-yard loss. Smith missed a 41-yard attempt wide left with just over five minutes remaining.
After forcing Southern to punt, Western took over again in the final minutes. Barr and the offense drove into Saluki territory but the drive stalled when he threw just his fourth interception this season right in front of the goal line.
Barr finished 23-of-44 passing for 343 yards and a TD. However, five sacks forced Western to minus-60 yards on the ground, overall minus-7 rushing yards on the day.
Senatus hauled in nine catches for 157 yards and a score. Chestnut set a personal-high with 85 yards on four catches.
Kyle Glazier led all tacklers with 15 stops. West added a career-high 11 tackles.
Southern out-gained the nation’s top offense 364-336, holding Western to 160 yards and 29 points shy of its season averages.
Strother rushed for a game-high 150 yards. Dieker finished 12-of-18 passing for 110 yards.
Depending on the outcome of the Northern Iowa-Missouri State game later Saturday, Western could still be in contention for a share of the conference title. The Leathernecks need a UNI loss then knock off the Panthers next Saturday (Nov. 20) at Hanson Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.