Story and photo courtesy of Illinois State Athletics
NORMAL, Ill. – Darrelynn Dunn registered his third 100-plus rushing effort of the season and added two touchdowns, as No. 15 Illinois State (4-0, 1-0 MVFC) rolled to a 23-3 victory over Western Illinois (2-2, 0-1 MVFC) Saturday afternoon in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener at Hanson Field in Macomb, Ill.
The victory improved the Redbirds to 4-0 on the season, their best start since 1967.
Dunn finished the game with 114 yards on 29 carries, scoring both of his touchdowns in the opening half. The offense outgained Western Illinois 373-137, with quarterback Matt Brown finishing the day 16-for-27 for 210 yards with one touchdown. Tyrone Walker led the receivers with five catches for 74 yards, but it was Jordan Newkirch’s 12-yard touchdown completion in the fourth quarter that capped the scoring. Brown finished the game with 8,251 career passing yards, which is tied with Kevin Glenn for the most in school history.
The ISU defense limited Western Illinois to only 137 yards of total offense, 55 of which came in the air. The Redbirds forced two turnovers, including Ben Ericksen’s fourth interception of the season. ISU now has seven interceptions this season, after totaling only three all of last year. Mike Zimmer led the Redbirds with 13 tackles and a sack, with Evan Frierson right behind with 11 tackles and a tackle-for-loss.
After forcing a Western Illinois to punt on the opening drive of the game, Illinois State logged a 16-play, 90-yard scoring drive to score first. Brown connected on passes to Walker, Donovan Harden and James O’Shaughnessy, while Dunn and Marshuan Coprich handled the running duties. A running-into-the-kicker penalty on fourth down gave ISU first-and-goal from the five-yard line. Three plays later Dunn leapt over the defense for the score, making it 7-0 in favor of the Redbirds.
ISU struck again to open the second quarter, after a 22-yard punt gave the Redbirds possession inside WIU territory. Brown’s 14-yard completion to Lechein Neblett on third-and-15 set up fourth-and-one from the WIU 34 yard line. ISU head coach Brock Spack elected to go for it and Dunn went untouched on a 34-yard rushing score down the right hash marks. The extra point was blocked, making it 13-0 for ISU. Two minutes later, ISU added a 37-yard field goal from Nick Aussieker, giving the Redbirds a 16-0 lead going heading into halftime.
Western Illinois registered its only scoring drive of the day midway through the third quarter, as Pat Smith’s 21-yard field goal made it 16-3. Quarterback Josh H-0udson struggled against the Redbird defense, finishing just 10-for-22 for 55 yards with one interception. Running back Nikko Watson led the Leathernecks’ ground attack with 60 yards on 14 carries, but could not find the end zone.
Illinois State would put the game away on the next drive, covering 75 yards on seven plays. Brown’s 12-yard completion to Newkirch capped the scoring, and marked the first receiving touchdown of Neukirch’s career at Illinois State.
The Redbirds remain on the road next week, when they travel to South Dakota for a Missouri Valley Football Conference contest, Sept. 29. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.