Courtesy of Western Illinois Athletics
MACOMB, Ill. â€“ Senior quarterback Matt Barr did it with his feet and through the air, leading Western Illinois to a convincing 56-14 victory over Sam Houston State at Hanson Field on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Fighting Leathernecks recorded their 500th career victory in 107 years of the programâ€™s existence improving to 500-413-36 all-time.
For the third consecutive game, Western (2-1 overall) struck first. Staging an 89-yard drive later in the first quarter, Bryce Flowers ripped off a 41-yard run then Barr found Todd Speight for 24 yards to set up 1st-and-goal. Two plays later Flowers scored from a yard out. Charlie Jouett hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Punter Chris Fuchs pinned the Bearkats down on their own six midway through the second quarter. Victor Visoky forced a fumble on Ryan Wilson, and Dwight Harris recovered on the one yard line. Caulton Ray punched it in on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
Tim Flanders rushed all three times on the next drive, covering 45 yards for the Bearkatsâ€™ touchdown.
Once again, the quick-strike Western offense needed just one play. Barr kept the ball himself, broke through the line and raced 69 yards for a touchdown. That marked the longest run of his career giving Western a 21-7 lead. Flanders moved quickly down the field again, using runs of 18 and 31 yards to score his second TD of the quarter cutting Westernâ€™s lead to seven points again.
The Leathernecks covered 82 yards on eight plays in their next drive. Barr found Lito Senatus on a 9-yard touchdown pass before halftime as Western took a 28-14 lead into the locker room.
Flanders rushed for 153 yards in the half, but the Leathernecks defense kept him and the Bearkats offense in check during final 30 minutes.
Western took the ball to start and Barr would eventually hit Justin Morgan for a 13-yard touchdown. Following a 3-and-out, Speight took a reverse, used his downfield blocking and scored from 24 yards out. Then right before the third quarter ended Barr hit Terriun Crump down the left sidelines for another 1-play, 43-yard scoring strike, capping the 21-point quarter.
The Leathernecks rounded out the scoring when Wil Lunt found Aaron Muhammad on a 16-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Head coach Mark Hendrickson noted the teamâ€™s effort for 60 total minutes.
â€œThe coaching staff and myself couldnâ€™t be more proud of the team than we are at this moment. We have prepared very well through practice and three game weeks, and as a result weâ€™ve played three good ball games. Weâ€™ve left each game with more momentum than we had the week before. Thatâ€™s not easy to do and I give the credit to the players.â€
Sam Houston State managed 249 yards of offense in the first half, but the Leatherneck defense limited them to 114 yards during the second half.
â€œAt halftime we felt like we did after the first two games. We were playing well, but the goal was to take it up one more notch. The players challenged themselves to do that and Iâ€™m proud to say the results showed in the second half.â€
Barr, who played only three quarters, set a Western Illinois record with 125 rushing yards by a quarterback â€“ breaking his own mark set against South Dakota State in the 2007 season opener. Barr rushed seven times, including his career-long 69-yard touchdown run. He completed 12-of-26 passes for 221 yards and matched a personal-best with three TD passes, also done last year in the win at Sam Houston to kick off the 2009 campaign.
No Leatherneck had more than three catches, as Barr and Lunt found nine different receivers in the win. In fact, Muhammad and Morgan both caught their first TD pass as a Leatherneck.
â€œWe had nine guys catch the ball today and thatâ€™s awesome. We have so many weapons, so for me the hardest part is getting everybody touches because we have so many guys capable of making big plays,â€ said Barr. â€œWeâ€™re feeling good. We know that the Missouri Valley Football Conference is tough and to win the way we did today, weâ€™re very confident as we begin conference play next week.â€
Flowers finished with 83 rushing yards while Ray added 69. Both recorded a rushing TD for the third consecutive game.
Kyle Glazier paced the defense making 10 tackles, including a sack. Sam Power added a career-high nine stops and Brandon Kreczmer made seven tackles. Western forced two turnovers, the fumble deep in Sam Houston State territory then in the second half Ryan Waldron recorded his first career interception returning it 50 yards.
The Bearkats used four different quarterbacks in the game. Brian Bell completed 4-of-12 passes for 75 yards with an interception. Flanders ended the game with a game-high 156 yards, but managed only three yards in the second half.
Western begins MVFC play next Saturday (Sept. 25) as the Leathernecks play host to Indiana State. The Homecoming 2010 (and Hall of Fame ceremony) game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff.