Oct. 8, 2011
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - North Dakota State didn't get a first down until five minutes were left in the third quarter, but it managed just enough offense to squeak out a 9-3 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday.
For most of the game, the No. 4-ranked Bison (5-0, 2-0) offense was throttled by SIU. The unit, which entered the game averaging 38 points per game, went three-and-out on its first eight drives. The first 25 plays netted a total of just 25 yards.
Trailing, 3-0, late in the third quarter, NDSU finally moved the first down sticks when Sam Ojuri carried for three yards on 2nd-and-3 from the Bison 17. The dam broke on the next play, as quarterback Brock Jensen completed a 58-yard flea flicker pass to Ryan Smith. Although the drive quickly stalled, it eventually set up a North Dakota State field goal to tie the score, 3-3, and shifted the momentum to the visitors.
The Bison scored their winning touchdown with 6:51 remaining in the game on a 10-yard throw from Jensen to Matt Veldman. The extra point was no good, leaving the score 9-3.
"(The game) was a beauty," NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said wryly. "I don't think I've been a part of a game with so much adversity. We made plays when we had to make plays to win."
For the No. 17-ranked Salukis (2-3, 1-2), it was an afternoon of missed chances and frustration. The offense spent most of the first half deep in NDSU territory but came away with only three points.
SIU's opening drive typified the day. The offense marched 79 yards to the NDSU 1. It had three point-blank cracks at the end zone, but a pair of quarterback sneaks by Kory Faulkner and an off-tackle run by Jewel Hampton failed to break the plane.
Southern's next five drives all penetrated Bison territory, but a fumble, an interception, a failed fourth down conversion and a missed 23-yard field goal all sent the Saluki offense back to the sideline empty-handed. The only successful conversion was a 31-yard field goal by Jackson MacLachlan.
Perhaps those outcomes should have been expected against a defense that has allowed only three redzone TDs this year.
"North Dakota State's redzone defense is pretty impressive and their short yard defense is extremely impressive," said Saluki head coach Dale Lennon.
He explained the decision to try back-to-back QB sneaks when the offense was inches away from the goal line, saying that the Bison defense excels at getting penetration in goal line situations.
"We felt that we shouldn't worry about the penetration and let's get a surge with our center and guards," Lennon said. "We felt that was probably our best chance to get the six inches at that point in time."
At halftime, the Salukis led 218-21 in total yardage, but only 3-0 on the scoreboard. Running back Jewel Hampton was the team's most consistent offensive threat. He carried 23 times for 120 yards, but only 43 came in the second half.
Making his first career start in place of injured starter Paul McIntosh, Faulkner completed 16-of-28 passes for 169 yards. His receivers dropped several catchable passes. On the downside, Faulkner threw three interceptions, including a pick to Marcus Williams that set NDSU up at midfield on its game-winning drive.
"I thought Kory did a very good job managing the offense," Lennon said. "A couple of the choices that he made down the stretch, particularly the one that led to the touchdown, that's just an experience factor. He thinks he's making a pretty safe throw on an out-route on the sideline to our receiver and he just kind of got baited into that one."
With McIntosh expected to be out for at least several more weeks, Faulkner will remain at the controls of the Saluki offense.
"I think Kory has a very good upside," Lennon said. "I think he has some very good football in front of him. I think overall, Kory gave us a chance but we just came up short."
The Saluki defense turned in easily its most dominating performance of the season. Minus the gadget play, the D allowed just 152 yards. Cornerback Terrell Wilson led the team with seven tackles and an interception. The defense sacked Jensen three times and held NDSU's ground game to 60 yards on 33 carries.
"Southern Illinois had a great gameplan," Bohl said. "Their guys are well coached and they played extremely hard. I knew it was going to be a difficult win."
After losing a heartbreaker at Western Illinois last week, the Salukis were again on the cusp of victory but unable to close the deal.
"No doubt this loss hurts," Lennon said. "There is nothing brilliant you can say to your team after a loss like this. I'm not going to make it feel any better or take the edge off of it. It just hurts. That's the nature of the game. You put this much time and effort into it and we have a good team. I think we can still do things and make our presence known here, but we need to get back in that winning way and you just have to win that next one."