Oct. 7, 2006
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Arkee Whitlock rushed for a career-high 216 yards and three touchdowns to lead No. 9 Southern Illinois University (5-0, 2-0) to a 31-24 victory over Western Illinois (3-3, 0-2) earlier today in front of a Homecoming crowd of 13,721 at McAndrew Stadium.
SIU posted its fifth-straight win against WIU in a game that featured no turnovers, 466 rushing yards and two of the Gateway Conference's top running backs in Whitlock and Western's Herb Donaldson.
"I'm very proud of our team," said Saluki head coach Jerry Kill. "We're doing a good job of playing with many young players, who continue to step up and make plays. It's a long distance race and we're doing an excellent job of running it right now."
Whitlock diced up the Leatherneck defense for an average of 6.5 yards per carry on 33 attempts. He also had a pair of one-yard touchdown runs on back-to-back possessions just before the half, and scored the game-winning TD on a 10-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter.
The first of Whitlock's two one-yard plunges came after Braden Jones blocked a punt early in the second quarter. The blocked punt, which marked SIU's first of the season, resulted in Whitlock's TD three plays later.
"That's just the way the cards fall, I guess," is how Jones described his big play on special teams. "I was just the guy who came up with it."
WIU quarterback Steve LaFalce's 15-yard touchdown run capped a 10-play, 80-yard march on the Leathernecks' ensuing drive to make it a 14-10 game.
Whitlock, however, continued to dismantle the Leathernecks on SIU's next possession, where he dashed for 64 yards and another one-yard score to get the Dawgs a 21-10 lead just before the half.
WIU, who hung tight with SIU for the entire game, finally caught the Dawgs when Donaldson's six-yard touchdown run brought the game to a 24-24 deadlock with 9:04 left to play.
Turner hauled in Hill's pass in double coverage to give the Dawgs a first down at the Leatherneck 17.
"At that point in the game we were tied up and it was time to make a play," said Turner. "It was an excellent throw by Nick."
Whitlock then did the rest, as his 10-yard touchdown run iced a five-play, 80-yard drive for SIU with 6:48 remaining.
WIU's final drive of the game came to a halt at its own 34 when LaFalce's pass to Marco Thomas fell incomplete on a 4th-and-12.
In addition to his blocked punt, Jones caught four passes for 55 yards and one touchdown, a nine-yard pass from Hill on the game's opening drive. He has caught a touchdown pass in three of his last four games.
"The coaches always do a good job of preparing us," said Jones. "WIU is a good team. It came down to the last drive, we had to make big plays, and we did. That's why we won."
Hill completed 8-of-12 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
"Nick is a tremendous player," stated Kill. "His throws are accurate and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He also runs well enough to get out of trouble and I'm very confident in him."
Donaldson rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries, while LaFalce completed 15-of-28 passes for 161 yards to lead the Leathernecks.
On the day, both teams were equally impressive running the football, as WIU ran the ball 44 times for 216 yards and SIU had 250 yards on 43 carries.
SIU hits the road for a big Gateway Conference matchup at Illinois State on Oct. 14.
From the Western Illinois Locker Room:
Head Coach Don Patterson
On the outcome of the game...
"I guess that's why they charge for the privilege of seeing the game. That was a game that was well played by both teams. I congratulated Southern on their ability to win it because the game obviously could have gone the other way. I thought both teams played hard and played generally very well."
On SIU's program...
"I really have a lot of respect for Jerry and the program he has and I think he feels that way toward us, too. I had a chance to tell Arkee, 'I don't just like you because you're a good player, I like you because I also have every reason to believe you're a really good person."
On Arkee Whitlock...
"The thing that impressed me about Arkee today, watching from the sidelines, he's just a very patient runner. He picks his way and doesn't go into panic mode and decide to do something silly. Generally he makes good choices about how he works his way down the field and does a good job playing off his blocks."
"You've got to defend the offense, that's the problem. They have a good balance to their offense just like we have a good balance to ours. It's just hard to contain him. If he gets 33 carries against most teams he's going to have a lot of yards to show for it. I guess it's a compliment to us that he got to carry the ball 33 times."
On the blocked punt...
"Significant. I really thought Coffee got it off pretty quick. It was just a good surge inside by Southern. It was a big play, because with our offense, you don't get too many short fields."
Game Notes: Alan Turner has caught a pass in 19 consecutive games...his reception today was the third consisting of 39 or more yards this season...SIU has won the last five games of its series against WIU...that streak started when the Salukis snapped a league record 18-straight losses to the Leathernecks on Homecoming in 2002...Jerry Kill remained perfect at home when coaching against WIU...he is now 3-0...SIU went its second-straight game and third this season without a turnover...Nick Hill has thrown 94 consecutive passes without an interception and Arkee Whitlock has run the ball 193-straight times without a fumble...Whitlock, who also surpassed 3,000 yards (3,096) of total offense and 4,000 all-purpose yards (4,114) in his career, has rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season...SIU was perfect on its first 20 scoring opportunities inside the red zone this season, but saw that streak end today, when it converted 5-of-6 chances...SIU moved to 22-22 on Homecoming dating back to 1963...the Salukis have also won on Homecoming six years in a row...SIU has hosted WIU as part of its Homecoming festivities eight times and is 2-6 in those contests.