Nov. 11, 2006
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - With playoff hopes hanging in the balance for both teams, No. 14 Southern Illinois University (7-3, 4-3) used a high octane offense to steamroll No. 11 Northern Iowa (6-4, 4-2), 47-23, at McAndrew Stadium.
SIU, which boasts the Gateway's number one scoring offense (33.7 ppg), went four-straight games with less than 30 points on the board, but erupted for 47 today, including 30 in the first half.
The Salukis also intercepted UNI quarterback and Payton Award candidate Eric Sanders three times, marking the first time SIU had three or more picks in a game since getting four against West Virginia Tech on Sept. 21, 2002.
Prior to today, Sanders had thrown just three interceptions in nine games.
Arkee Whitlock rushed for 180 yards and set new career-highs with four touchdowns and 40 carries, while Nick Hill completed 12-of-15 passes for 172 yards and two TDs to key an explosive offensive attack that never let up.
"We have problems finishing games. That's been our main focus," said Whitlock. "We weren't able to come out in the second half and play like we did in the first half like we did today.
The Salukis used a good balance of rushing and passing plays to baffle a Panther defense, which entered the game ranked first in the league against the run (118.9 ypg).
"We're an aggressive football team. We came out here and knew our backs were against the wall and I'm proud of the players," said Saluki head coach Jerry Kill. "Our players did exactly what I asked them to do and they deserved to win."
SIU set the tone early by marching 83 yards on nine plays the first time it had the ball.
Hill completed three passes for 19 or more yards, and hooked up with Braden Jones for a 20-yard touchdown to give SIU a quick 7-0 lead with 10:36 remaining in the first quarter.
Whitlock then returned the ensuing kickoff for 67 yards to the Panthers' 31-yard line, and three plays later, Hill delivered a 19-yard touchdown pass to Alan Turner to push SIU's lead to 16-6.
UNI once again responded when Sanders found Allen Terrell for a 19-yard strike. Terrell's reception ended a 7-play, 69-yard drive for the Panthers, who narrowed the gap to 16-13 at the 2:42 mark.
Hill kept the chains moving on SIU's next possession by completing three passes for eight, 12 and 32 yards, respectively, to help get the Dawgs to the UNI 11.
Whitlock scored from a yard out immediately following Jones' 32-yard catch to put SIU ahead, 23-13, just 1:21 into the second quarter.
The game had the makings of a shootout with the way both teams were going back-and-forth, but that would soon come to an end.
UNI faced a 3rd-and-6 when Brandon Bruner picked off Sanders at the Salukis' 45-yard line.
Eleven plays and 55 yards later, Whitlock scored on a four-yard scamper to give SIU a 30-13 cushion at the half.
SIU continued to pour it on in the second half.
After Nathan Rausa's 32-yard field goal made it a 30-16 game early in the third quarter, SIU powered its way to another score.
Whitlock rushed for a combined 28 yards on five-straight carries to end a 9-play, 61-yard drive. He scored his third TD on a five-yard run at the 2:03 mark.
Craig Coffin's 27-yard field goal and Whitlock's 11-yard TD tacked on 10 more points to bury the Panthers for good.
Those 10 points, along with two more interceptions, including one by Bruner and one by Clayton Johnson, all came in the fourth quarter.
Whitlock posted his eighth 100-yard game of the season, while Hill completed a perfect 10-of-10 passes for 158 of his 172 yards in the first half alone.
"Arkee is on a mission," stated Kill. "I continue to say he's the best running back in I-AA football."
And, about Hill's performance?
"As good as it gets," said Kill. "I couldn't be more proud of what the kid has accomplished with all the pressure that has been put on him."
Jones also caught four passes for 85 yards and one TD, as the Salukis finished with just under 400 (393) yards of total offense.
Defensively, SIU pressured Sanders all day. Bruner, who posted his first career interceptions, led the way with eight tackles. The Salukis also sacked Sanders three times.
"I think it all starts with turnovers and the defense making plays," said Kill. "There were some good momentum shifts that we haven't been able to get over the last two or three weeks. I think we got those plays because our kids were more aggressive. Brandon has played his heart out the last two weeks."
Sanders completed 15-of-24 passes for 204 yards and one TD to go along with his three interceptions.
As a team, the Panthers had 415 yards of total offense, including 211 on the ground and 204 through the air.
UNI appears to be eliminated from the playoff hunt, as no Gateway team has ever earned an at-large bid with four losses.
Meanwhile, SIU must win its final game of the season to stay alive. The Salukis conclude the regular-season at home against Southern Utah on Nov. 18.
Game Notes: SIU only had two interceptions in its first nine games this season before picking off three passes today...the home team has won the last nine matchups between SIU and UNI...also, the teams have alternated wins and losses every year since 1997...SIU's 47 points are the second-most scored in a game against the Panthers...the most points the Salukis have ever scored against UNI were 52 in 1983...the 24-point margin of victory was the largest against UNI since SIU beat the Panthers, 42-13, in 2002...that game was also at McAndrew Stadium...Whitlock rushed for a minimum of three touchdowns for the fourth time this season...he now has 3,784 rushing yards in his Saluki career...SIU scored 40 or more points in a game for the fourth time this season.