Sept. 6, 2008
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Larry Warner rushed for a career-high 151 yards and scored two touchdowns, including one on a 95-yard kickoff return, to help No. 12 Southern Illinois University (1-0) secure a 37-31 win over Hampton (1-1) earlier tonight in front of a crowd of 10,051 at McAndrew Stadium.
Warner finished the night with a total of 353 all-purpose yards. That total was the fourth-most in a game among Missouri Valley Football Conference individuals.
"Larry's kind of a coach's dream," said Saluki head coach Dale Lennon. "His heart is so big you need both hands to cover it during the National Anthem. He's strong and he was a difference-maker tonight."
Warner added, "I'll do anything I can to help the team. It's all about winning. It's something that I want to be a part of."
SIU had a 20-3 lead with 6:40 left in the second quarter before HU scored its first touchdown of the game on a 62-yard pass from Herbert Bynes to Justin Brown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Warner broke free for a 95-yard touchdown, giving SIU a 27-10 lead at the half. Warner's kickoff return was the Salukis' longest in eight years.
The Pirates, behind Bynes, who completed 30-of-47 passes for a career-high 403 yards and three touchdowns, pulled to within three points after putting up a pair of TDs in the third quarter.
Bynes hooked up with Brown again, this time for a 85-yard touchdown, and later scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to narrow SIU's lead to 27-24 at the 7:12 mark.
Bynes also threw three interceptions, none more bigger than his pair on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter.
Down, 34-24, after Warner scored on a 20-yard scamper, HU moved the ball to its own 33-yard line when Mike McElroy picked off Bynes, giving SIU the ball at the Pirates' 47. SIU later drove to HU's 1-yard line before falling short of the end zone on a 4th-and-1.
"We had a talk at halftime about how we needed to attack more on defense," said McElroy. "The coaches put us in a great position to make plays and we just did our job."
Bynes' 18-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Teel was the last of the scoring, as SIU kept the ball for the final 2:48 of the game.
Offensively, sophomore Chris Dieker completed 16-of-29 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as the Salukis' starting quarterback. Dieker threw touchdown passes to two different receivers, including two to Damian Sherman and one to Jeff Evans.
"There were some nerves, but once I stepped on that field, I focused and the nerves went away," said Dieker when addressing his first career start. "We were happy with the performance. We definitely have some areas to improve in and we're just going to continue working hard every day in practice."
The Salukis finished with 416 yards of total offense and out-rushed the Pirates, 200-47.
Defensively, SIU forced five turnovers. Brandin Jordan led the team with eight tackles, while McElroy (2, interceptions, 1 fumble recovery), Korey Lindsey (1 interception) and Ryan Patton (1 fumble recovery) accounted for the takeaways.
"The turnovers down the stretch were very key for us and that's what the defense is there to do -- get the ball back to the offense," Lennon said.
Lennon, who took the sidelines for his first game at SIU, won his 11th-straight season-opener as a head coach. The Salukis also earned their seventh season-opening victory in a row, improving to 30-4 at McAndrew Stadium since the start of the 2003 season.
SIU visits Big Ten Conference member Northwestern on Sept. 13. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m., CT, at Ryan Field. The game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.
The Salukis, who have knocked off a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent (formerly IA) in each of the last two seasons, became the first MVFC team to beat a Big Ten opponent when they won at Indiana the second week of the 2006 season.