Nov. 16, 2013
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois came to life in the second half for a 24-17 win over Illinois State on Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Saluki Stadium. With the win, the Salukis' slim playoff hopes remain alive.
In the first half, SIU (6-5, 4-3) played perhaps its worst half of football this season but righted the ship in the second half. The Salukis outscored the Redbirds (5-6, 4-4) by a 14-0 margin after the break thanks to a pair of Ken Malcome touchdown runs.
"The guys never gave up," SIU Coach Dale Lennon said. "Halftime was good for us. We had a chance to regroup and put the emphasis where it needed to be. We felt that we spotted Illinois State 10 points (in the first half), and we were only down by seven."
Malcome put SIU on top for good with his one-yard score with 7:36 left in the game. It was set up by a 21-yard swing pass to Malcolm Agnew. The duo of Malcome and Agnew combined for 126 rushing yards on 28 carries
Two minutes later, Tyler Williamson blocked the Redbirds' 37-yard field goal attempt, and the Salukis maintained possession to run out the clock.
After Malcome fumbled late in the first quarter, Lennon made a point to get him the ball early in the second half to keep his confidence high.
"The fumble I had during the first half did not sit well with me," Malcome said. "The players on the sideline, they kept me motivated."
Illinois State capitalized off SIU turnovers early as the Redbirds' first two scores were the result of an interception and a fumble. Dontae McCoy opened the scoring with a 64-yard interceptions return to give ISU a 7-0 lead. Illinois State then tied the game at 10-10 with a 33-yard field goal after Colton Underwood stripped Malcome, and ISU's Rickey Simpson recovered the fumble at the SIU 14.
The Saluki defense kept the team in the game as they picked off a season-high three passes, all in the first half. In the second half, SIU's defense held ISU to 100 total yards. The Dawgs did not allow the Redbirds to cross the Salukis' 35-yardline in the second half until the last six minutes of the game.
"We just realized that we needed to be more physical," linebacker Carl Bivens said. "In the first half we weren't as physical as we should have been. We went to the locker room and figured it out. We came back out and handled our business."
The turning point for the SIU defense appeared to be early in the third quarter. Illinois State was forced to punt from its own 11-yardline, but the drive continued when Bivens was called for roughing the kicker. It was a questionable call against Bivens, who had a breakout performance with 13 tackles, the most by a Saluki this season. On the next play, both D.J. Cameron and Anthony Thompson were called for 15-yard personal fouls, moving the ball to the SIU 44-yardline. However, the defense tightened up and forced a punt.
"That could've easily been the turning point against us," Lennon said. "Instead it became a rallying point for us where it just seemed like everyone hunkered down and scratched and clawed to make the play and not allow them to score."
From that point forward, the SIU defense held the Redbirds to 69 yards and two first downs in the final quarter and a half.
Lennon said the defense's strong play in the second half allowed the offense to spend more time on the field and get into a rhythm.
"That was huge," Lennon said. "We weren't sitting on the sideline with five- or six-minute drives against us, so our offense was able to get out there and play, and we started moving the football."
After completing just six of 18 passes for 56 yards in the first half, Saluki quarterback Ryan West was much more effective in the second half, going 11-for-15 for 118 yards.
Next week the Salukis will close the regular season at Indiana State. With a win next week and a Youngstown State loss, SIU would finish the season tied for second place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which would presumably help its playoff chances.
"I told the team, the dream is still alive," Lennon said. "That's something you could go through and speculate how you want. Two of the three things we needed to happen in the league today worked in our favor. That's very positive. Now we just have to handle business next week."