Nov. 15, 2008
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Kyle Dougherty made a 28-yard field goal and James Wheeler came up with a huge interception in the last three minutes of the game to give No. 9 Southern Illinois University (8-2, 6-1) a 38-35 win over South Dakota State (6-5, 5-2) earlier today at a frigid McAndrew Stadium.
As expected, SIU and SDSU hooked up in an exciting Missouri Valley Football Conference showdown that came down to the wire.
"It was another game that came down to the end," said SIU head coach Dale Lennon. "I don't know why our games are always like that, but it just seems to work out that way."
SIU, which led 35-21 at halftime, saw its two-touchdown lead disappear when SDSU scored on two of its first three drives of the third quarter.
Ryan Berry's 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Steffen capped a 10-play, 72 yard drive 4:03 into the stanza. After forcing SIU to punt, the Jackrabbits took over on downs in excellent field position at the SIU 37. Five plays later, Kyle Minnett scored on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 35-35 at the 2:57 mark.
SIU, which went scoreless in the third quarter for the sixth time in 10 games this year, then pieced together its longest drive of the game en route to the decisive score.
Chris Dieker completed 6-of-8 passes and Larry Warner ran eight yards to pick up a big first down on a 3rd-and-long to help get SIU deep into SDSU territory. Dougherty, after missing two field goals the week before, then watched his 28-yard kick sail through the uprights to give the Salukis a 38-35 edge with 2:59 left in the game. SIU marched 75 yards in 16 plays, chewing up 6:40 prior to Dougherty's kick.
SDSU stormed back, with Berry completing six of his first seven passes to quickly move the Jackrabbits to the Saluki 29-yardline. Shortly after a first down incompletion, Berry was picked off by Wheeler along the near sideline.
SIU punted on its next possession, giving SDSU one last chance with 12 seconds left. The Jackrabbits had the ball at their own 33 and only gained nine yards on two passing plays, as time expired.
The Salukis once again set the tone in the first half, scoring 14 points in the first quarter and 21 in the second. SIU is outscoring its opponents, 217-75, in the first half this year.
"We were able to answer their touchdowns in the first half and I think that's always the key," said Lennon. "That's where we ended up getting a two-touchdown lead, and I give them credit for the way they came out in the second half."
Richard White scored on a 2-yard run and Warner returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Warner broke SIU's all-time career record in kickoffs returned for touchdowns. All three of those returns have come this season.
Dieker threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Damian Sherman, Marty Rodgers returned an interception 57 yards for a TD and Warner scored on a 2-yard scamper in the second quarter. Rodgers, who also finished with a game-high nine tackles, became the third Saluki to run back an interception for a touchdown this season.
Offensively, SIU ran for 102 yards and threw for 245 en route to 347 total yards. Dieker completed 25-for-35 passes for a career-high 245 yards and one TD. Warner, who piled up 269 all-purpose yards, was the Salukis' leading rusher (76 yards, 1 TD) and receiver (6 catches, 73 yards).
Brandin Jordan also had nine tackles to lead the Saluki defense.
Berry completed 29-of-46 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns to lead SDSU. Berry, who has thrown 10 TDs in his last two starts, threw two interceptions and was sacked three times, as well. Glen Fox added 104 yards and one TD on nine receptions.
"I thought for a lot of reasons in the second half that we played better football," said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. "I thought we were going to win the game. This was the toughest game we've lost."
SIU concludes its regular-season at Illinois State on Nov. 22. A win over the Redbirds will earn a share of the MVFC title and secure the league's automatic postseason berth.