Oct. 2, 2010
By Jason Clay
NORMAL, Ill. - Luke Thuston blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and No. 23 Southern Illinois ran for a season-high 342 yards to defeat No. 19 Illinois State, 38-17, Saturday at Hancock Stadium to snap a three-game losing streak.
SIU improves to 2-3 on the year and 1-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with what could be a season-changing victory on the road. Illinois State falls to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference with its first home loss of the season.
"When you are going through a losing streak you kind of question everything and you just got to stick to what you believe in and believe in the players," head coach Dale Lennon said. "Today it all came together for us.
"The nice thing was, now we've played a full game and we were able to close when we needed to close. For today at least, we did what we had to."
Junior running back Shariff Harris had 37 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Chris Dieker added 91 yards rushing on 10 carries with one touchdown. Dieker threw for 78 yards with one TD to Matt Guinn in the third quarter.
"What worked for me was the offensive line," Harris said when asked about his big day running the ball. "This was a very important win, and the whole team was very hungry to get the win."
Thuston, a redshirt freshman who made his first career start at strong safety, had 1.5 tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery and his blocked punt was his second in as many games. Thuston's pressure of quarterback Matt Brown with seconds remaining in the second quarter caused a Stephen Franklin interception when the Redbirds had the ball on the Saluki two-yard line.
Kyle Dougherty broke the SIU school record when he made the 51st career field goal in the first quarter.
SIU outgained Illinois State, 420-218, and the Saluki defense held the Redbird passing attack to just 149 yards, which is 115 yards under their average. Illinois State also only had 69 yards rushing on the day.
Sophomore running back Steve Strother added 49 yards rushing on seven carries and quarterback Paul McIntosh came in to add 26 yards on five carries and picked up one big fourth down. SIU was 5-of-5 on fourth-down conversions in the game.
Outside linebacker Jayson DiManche had a team-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two pass breakups at the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Nick King had a career-high six tackles, including several big hits when Illinois State tried some short passes to his side of the field.
Southern Illinois came out ready to play on Saturday, scoring 17-straight points to start the game.
Dieker led SIU down 77 yards for a score on its first drive, which he capped off with a 13-yard touchdown run.
After a big sack from Chance Coda on a third-and-13, the Redbirds had to punt from out of their own end zone and the Salukis got the ball at the ISU 34-yard line on their second drive.
That led to a 23-yard Dougherty field goal at 3:06 to put SIU up 10-0. His 51st career field goal moved him ahead of Craig Coffin for the most field goals made in school history.
Thuston then blocked a punt and returned it eight yards for a touchdown to give SIU the 17-0 lead after the first quarter.
After changing ends of the field at the quarter, Illinois State got on the scoreboard with a 28-yard Matt Brown to Marvon Sanders touchdown pass.
The Salukis had the ball on the ISU eight-yard line inside of two minutes before halftime. Dieker was hit while being thrown and the ball popped up in the air and into the arms of Redbird defensive tackle Dave Rivas.
Illinois State had drove down all the way to the Saluki two-yard line, but with 15 seconds left, Thuston pressured Brown to throw an errant pass that Stephen Franklin intercepted at the one.
Thuston continued on with his strong play in the third quarter, recovering a fumble at the Redbird 16-yard line. Two plays later, Dieker hit Guinn for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give SIU a 24-7 lead.
Illinois State climbed back to within 14 at 4:46 of the third quarter with a Steven Fetzer 39-yard field goal.
The gap was cut closer when ISU's punt block team returned the favor to SIU. With 25 seconds left before the end of the third quarter, Redbird receiver Marcus King blocked a Austin Pucylowski punt and Mike Hiestand returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Dieker then engineered a touchdown drive to kill ISU's momentum and put the Salukis back up by 14. His 33-yard rush, which came when he escaped what should have been a sure sack, set up a two-yard touchdown run by Harris with 12:01 to play.
SIU then grinded out the clock the rest of the way and Harris capped off the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run at 5:48.