Oct. 25, 2008
By Jeff Honza
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Chris Dieker escaped a sack and threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Marc Cheatham as time expired to give No. 13 Southern Illinois University (5-2, 4-1) a thrilling 23-17 win over Missouri State (3-4, 2-2) earlier today at Plaster Field.
SIU had the ball at its own 49-yardline with seven seconds left. Dieker dropped back to pass, avoided three MSU defenders and found a wide open Cheatham along the near sideline. Cheatham went untouched into the end zone as the clock ran out.
"It looked like Chris was going to be sacked and the whole defense converged. I was running a crossing route and just got behind the defense and put my hand up, and he threw it up there," is how Cheatham described the game's final play. "It's a great feeling to get opportunities to make plays."
The Salukis scored 20 fourth-quarter points, including 14 on consecutive drives.
After Derek Miller returned Cory Harbor's blocked punt 36 yards to give MSU a 7-3 lead with just under four minutes left in the third quarter, SIU countered with back-to-back touchdowns to take a 10-point lead.
Dieker scored on a quarterback sneak on fourth down to give SIU a 10-7 edge with 11:50 reamaining. Dieker's 1-yard run capped a 16-play, 77-yard march for the Dawgs.
SIU then forced MSU to punt and took over on downs at its own 48. Four plays later, Dieker hooked up with Cheatham for a 29-yard strike to push the lead to 17-7 at the 9:03 mark. Cheatham stiff-armed a Bear tackler to the ground during his impressive run after the catch.
MSU managed to get to SIU's 2-yardline the next time it had the ball, but was held two a field goal thanks to the Salukis' smothering goal line defense. The Bears were stopped on three-straight rushing attempts before Matt Hottelman's 20-yard field goal sliced SIU's lead to 17-10 with 4:11 left.
Cody Kirby then completed two passes of 20 or more yards, including a 26-yard TD to Brandon Oliver, as MSU tied things up at 17-17 with 19 seconds on the clock.
For SIU, the beginning was one the Salukis would rather forget.
The Salukis turned the ball over on each of their first four possessions of the game. SIU fumbled three times and threw one interception over that span.
SIU moved inside the Bears' 20-yardline on three occasions, but scored only three points when Kyle Dougherty made an 18-yard field goal with 42 seconds left.
Dougherty scored the only points of the half six plays after Mike McElroy picked off Kirby and ran 14 yards to give SIU the ball at the MSU 28. Kirby threw 71 passes without an interception prior to McElroy's pick.
Larry Warner fumbled at the Bears' 1-yardline and Dieker bobbled the snap on SIU's other turnovers in the red zone.
"It was a strange first half and we were fortunate to be ahead," said SIU head coach Dale Lennon. "We could have very easily been down a couple scores. You knew the longer they stuck around, the more of a run they would make at the end, which is exactly what they did."
Offensively, SIU registered season-highs in total offense (498), rushing yardage (255) and passing yards (243). Warner had a career-high 167 yards on 26 carries, as SIU dominated MSU, 255-32, on the ground.
Dieker completed 19-of-30 passes for a career-high 243 yards and two TDs. Dieker had a rushing touchdown, threw two interceptions and went without being sacked for the second time this season.
Receiving wise, seven different players caught passes for the Salukis. Cheatham led the way with a career-high 103 yards. Joe Allaria added a game-high five catches for 63 yards.
"Marc is one of our main players and Joe is one of our best athletes on the team," said Lennon. "They've been a good one-two combo for us."
Defensively, Brandin Jordan posted a game-high 11 tackles. Jordan finished with 10 or more tackles for the second game in a row and third time this season.
SIU also turned the ball over five times in a game for the first time in seven years.
"We made enough mistakes that will lose games for you and that just about happened," said Lennon.
Kirby completed 22-of-40 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown to lead MSU. Kirby cleared 3,000 passing yards in his career, becoming one of eight Bear quarterbacks to accomplish the feat.
SIU, which won a game as time expired for the second time this season, returns to Carbondale for a three-game homestand. The Salukis host North Dakota to begin that stretch on Nov. 1.