Sept. 3, 2011
By Tom Weber
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - No. 17-ranked Southern Illinois was unstoppable by land and by air during a 38-10 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday in the season opener for both schools.
The Salukis (1-0) compiled 240 yards rushing and 254 yards passing, nearly doubling up the Redhawks (0-1) in total yardage.
A year after SEMO rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to stun SIU, 24-21, there was never any hint of an upset brewing in the hot, humid air of Houck Stadium.
On the second play from scrimmage, Saluki tailback Steve Strother broke a 62-yard touchdown run down the right sideline.
"Everybody knew that we were going to come out and make a statement on the first drive," Strother said. "That early score really set the tone."
While Strother totaled 100 yards combined rushing and receiving, Iowa transfer Jewel Hampton was equally as effective out of the Saluki backfield. Playing in his first game in more than a year because of a knee injury, Hampton pounded the ball between the tackles for 64 yards and three touchdowns.
Southern's veteran offensive line produced a consistent surge for a Saluki running game that averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
"The line did whatever they wanted to tonight," Strother said. "Any run play that we wanted to call, inside zone-outside zone, they did it all night."
Orchestrating the Saluki attack was quarterback Paul McIntosh. After the ground game bruised the Redhawks defense, McIntosh burned it deep. He completed 14-of-18 passes for a career-high 246 yards. He had pass completions of 70 yards (Cam Fuller), 31 yards (MyCole Pruitt), 30 yards (LaSteven McKinney) and 28 yards.
"Paul had something to prove," Lennon said. "A lot of people were wondering if he's the guy who can do it. Paul has improved his game over the course of the off-season. He's throwing the ball more confidently. He has arm strength. His accuracy is pretty good and he still has the feet to hurt you with the run."
In an odd coincidence, the Salukis led 14-3 halftime, just like last year. But this time, they slammed the door shut on SEMO, outscoring it, 24-7, in the second half. The scoring included TD runs of 23 and 7 yards by Hampton and a 70-yard touchdown strike from McIntosh to Fuller.
Southern's defense smothered the SEMO option attack throughout the game, holding a trio of running backs to 19 yards on 14 carries. Nose tackle Kayon Swanson was a force inside, tying a career-high six tackles.
"I thought our nose guard play was pretty special," Saluki head coach Dale Lennon said. "Kayon made life tough in the middle and there were a lot of times you saw him in the backfield."
For a team that had question marks at numerous positions, Lennon was happy with the answers he got on opening day.
"I think we gave a little glimpse of the type of season we can have," he said.