Oct. 22, 2011
By Tom Weber
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - For the fourth week in a row, Southern Illinois faltered in the fourth quarter of a close game, this time falling to No. 2 Northern Iowa, 17-10, inside the noisy UNI Dome on Saturday.
The Panthers (6-1, 5-0) took over on downs with 1:24 remaining in the game after stopping the Salukis (2-5, 1-4) on four-straight plays at the UNI 28 to preserve the victory.
Southern had its crack at a game-tying touchdown after cornerback Courtney Richmond recovered a fumble by UNI's Brett LeMaster at the 28. Two-straight carries by Jewel Hampton netted no yardage, and quarterback Kory Faulkner threw two incomplete passes, giving the ball back to the Panthers.
"You can't ask for a better scenario to be in," Saluki head coach Dale Lennon said. "There was plenty of time on the clock to do what we wanted to do. We went to our go-to guy and wanted to get a manageable second or third down, and didn't have the success we wanted. When you get to 3rd-and-long and 4th-and-long against UNI's defense, that's a tough predicament to be in."
On 3rd-and-10, Faulkner's pass intended for Cam Fuller was deflected. On fourth down, Faulkner lofted a pass near the end zone for LaSteven McKinney, but he was well-covered and the ball landed out of bounds.
"Coming to work as hard as we do every week and leaving every play out on the field, and then to come up short, it's hard to go in the locker room and look at all the upperclassmen," said Faulkner, a sophomore QB making his third start in place of injured Paul McIntosh.
Against the nation's No. 2-ranked scoring defense, Faulkner put up respectable numbers, completing 14-of-19 passes for 91 yards, no interceptions and a touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt. It just wasn't enough to beat a UNI team that has won six-straight games by an average of 17 points.
"I thought (Kory) did a good job managing the game," Lennon said. "It was a hostile environment, very noisy and we had to use the silent count. We still need more production. He can still get better. He's a work in progress, but you can see the improvement."
As has been the case in each of its four-straight losses, the Salukis can point to a handful of plays they'd like to do over.
Southern led, 7-0, late in the first half, and was in position to go into halftime with at least a four-point lead. UNI had a 3rd-and-goal situation at the SIU 18, and Panthers' quarterback Tirrell Rennie was hit as he threw the ball. Somehow, wide receiver Tirrell Sinkfeld managed to sneak open in the far corner of Southern's end zone to make a diving TD catch.
In the third quarter, the Salukis forced UNI to punt from the SIU 40. Instead of booting the ball, however, punter Kyle Bernard saw nothing but daylight down the right sideline and ran 10 yards for a first down. The Panthers later settled for a 48-yard field goal by Tyler Sievertsen.
"If there was a call that was the call of the game, that was it right there," Lennon acknowledged.
The Salukis went to their own bag of tricks with mixed success. Running back Jewel Hampton, who bulldozed his way for 75 yards on 23 carries, completed a 16-yard pass to Faulkner that helped set up Southern's only touchdown. SIU also ran an unsuccessful reverse to LaSteven McKinney deep in UNI territory that lost yardage and forced the Salukis to settle for a 30-yard Jackson MacLachlan field goal.
"We took a couple gambles here and there," Lennon said. "We did one where we had a goofy formation down inside the red zone, but they were able to pick it up. We were pulling out all the stops, and it might not have been as visible as what it looked, but we were trying to do everything we could to crack the rock."
In the last three games, SIU's offense has scored just a dozen second-half points.
"That's a great defense and you have to give them credit," Faulkner said. "Offensively, we gave it everything we had. We were definitely moving the ball, but once we got down in the red zone, we had a couple of bad breaks."
Southern's defense turned in another outstanding effort, forcing three fumbles, holding UNI to 288 total yards and saddling the Panthers with their lowest point total of the season.
"We were making them earn every yard they got," Lennon said.
The Salukis have lost four-straight games for the first time since 2002, a season in which the team finished 4-8.
"Everyone looks at us and we're a 2-5 football team, but we just took the No. 2 team in the country in one of the toughest places to play down to the wire," Faulkner said. "We're a resilient team and we know we can play with anybody."
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