Sept. 10, 2011
By Tom Weber
OXFORD, Miss. - Mississippi held off a resilient Southern Illinois team, winning 42-24 and avoiding an upset at the hands of a Football Subdivision Championship opponent.
At first it looked like things would be easy for the Rebels (1-1), who were beaten a year ago by Jacksonville State in double overtime. Ole Miss staggered Southern with three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the game. Jeff Scott scored on runs of 37 and four yards, and then added a 67-yard punt return.
"To give up 21 points in five minutes is a team's worst nightmare," Saluki head coach Dale Lennon said. "It took a while for us to settle in to the type of game we needed to play. Unfortunately we spotted them 21 before we did it."
Trailing 28-3 late in the first half, SIU finally hit its stride, marching 80 yards on 16 plays as Jewel Hampton scored from two yards out to make it 28-10 at halftime.
The Salukis (1-1) made things interesting in the second half. Paul McIntosh threw touchdown passes to Rik Hicks and Cam Fuller. The 31-yard strike to Fuller was a spectacular throw and catch and drew SIU to within 35-24 with 6:30 remaining in the game.
"We thought we could take some shots and make some big pass plays down the field," Lennon said. "Offensively, I know we have the tools to be successful."
There were many positives in the loss, not the least of which was out-gaining the Rebels in total offense, 420-315. Four interceptions and bad field position were Southern's worst enemies.
"This loss stings," Lennon said. "It's one where our locker room, we know we let an opportunity slip away here. We were capable of doing more than what we did."
The run game was potent, totaling 197 yards. Steve Strother had 116 yards rushing for Southern and McIntosh added 80.
"We ran the ball well and the line blocked well," Strother said. "They were opening up holes all night. The linebackers were coming hard, and our guys were moving them out of the way."
Turnovers put Southern's defense on a short field too many times, but Lennon liked the way it responded.
"They were put in many, many bad situations," he said. "They came away enough times successful that you can feel good about things you're doing defensively."
Nose tackle Kayon Swanson had another huge game for the Salukis, leading the team with eight tackles and two sacks, before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
"Football is a game of runs and Ole Miss had the momentum early," said Saluki safety Mike McElroy. "I think we kind of settled down and realized we could hang with these guys."