Brandon Williams had 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery against Illinois.
Aug 31, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Southern Illinois’ comeback fell a few yards short in a 42-34 opening day loss to Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. With temperatures in the 90s, the Salukis fought back from a 22-point deficit midway through the third quarter.
“I was very pleased with the way we battled back,” SIU Coach Dale Lennon said. “We showed a toughness on offense that every coach wants to see.”
Trailing by eight points with three minutes to play, Kory Faulkner drove the Salukis to a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. After two runs moved the ball down to the 3-yard line, SIU took two shots into the end zone for a potential game-tying score, but Faulkner could not connect on pass attempts to LaSteven McKinney and Adam Fuehne. The fourth down pass attempt sailed just out of the reach of Fuehne, allowing the Illini to take possession and run out the clock.
“Coach DeBoer made a good call (on the final offensive play)," Faulkner said. "We put ourselves in the situation, and it was all we could really ask for. We battled and got the opportunity, but obviously we didn’t complete it so I wish I had it back.”
After struggling to stop the pass earlier in the game, the Saluki defense set up the opportunity for the comeback by forcing a fumble and then a crucial three-and-out on Illinois’ last two possessions.
Illinois seemed on the verge of putting the game away early in the second half when V’Angelo Bentley returned a kickoff 100 yards to give the Illini a 39-17 advantage. However, SIU outscored Illinois, 17-3 in the final 20 minutes of the game.
“We never even thought about giving up the whole time we were out there,” Faulkner said. “Maybe the Illinois fans thought it was over when they returned that kick, but we knew we just had to go out there and put points on the board, and that’s what we did.”
MyCole Pruitt’s two-yard touchdown reception cut the deficit to 42-34 with 4:14 left to play. It followed a trick play in which Faulkner caught a 29-yard pass from John Lantz.
Faulkner threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He took a big hit early in the second quarter but did not miss a single snap.
“Kory Faulkner played a gutsy game,” Lennon said. “He kept pulling himself off the turf. He was playing hurt and didn’t want to come out. That’s what you want from your quarterback, a guy that the team can rally around.”
The Saluki defense got pressure on Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase throughout the day, sacking him five times. However, he was able to escape often enough to throw for a career-high 416 yards and also complete a pair of touchdown passes. Scheelhaase set a school record by throwing for 340 yards in the first half. He hurt the Salukis all day with big plays, recording six completions that went for 25 yards or longer.
“Even though we’re a high pressure-type team,” Lennon said, “we do pride ourselves on the fact that normally we don’t give up a lot of big scoring plays, and that’s a concern. We made some mistakes today that normally would bury you, but we were fortunate offensively that we were able to keep the game close enough where we had a chance in the end.”
The Salukis took their only lead of the day at 7-3 with 8:01 left in the first quarter on Mika’il McCall’s one-yard touchdown run. It came moments after John Lantz made a leaping 39-yard grab and fell to the turf at the 1-yard line.
From there Illinois rattled off three consecutive touchdowns to end the half with a 25-7 advantage. Illinois took a 10-7 lead on a 53-yard screen pass to running back Josh Ferguson. After McCall fumbled on the 30-yard line on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Illini struck again 29 seconds later as Donovonn Young ran the ball in from two yards out to take a 17-7 lead. Then in the final minute of the half, Scheelhaase completed a 55-yard pass to Steve Hull streaking down the center of the field on a post route to set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jon Davis.
The Illini were then able to maintain a two-score lead until the final minutes of the game.
“You have to give Illinois credit,” Lennon said. “They did a good job answering every time we scored, and that’s why the points got as big as they did, but the good news was we were answering back and never gave up. We found a way to get it to one score at the end and just came up three yards short.”