Senior Ken Boatright had three tackles for loss including a sack in his final game for SIU.
Nov. 17, 2012
By Scott Gierman
CARBONDALE, Ill. - SIU turned the Black Out Cancer game into a shutout as the Salukis outplayed Western Illinois in nearly all aspects of the game Saturday to close out the season with a 35-0 win at Saluki Stadium. With the win, the Salukis (6-5, 5-3) recorded their first winning season since 2009 and their second shutout of the year.
SIU ended on a high note and finished the regular season in a third-place tie with Illinois State and Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
"This was, in my mind, a must win," head coach Dale Lennon said. "To finish high in the MVFC, I wanted that bad. We gave it all we had, and I'm proud of the effort the team gave. It was never due to a lack of effort."
The Salukis wore black uniforms for the game, and throughout the season, fans were able to bid to place the name of a loved one affected by cancer on the back of one of the 80 jerseys. Black Out Cancer raised more than $45,000 to go towards Southern Illinois Healthcare's Hope is Home campaign to build a cancer treatment center in southern Illinois.
In the game, SIU's dominant defense put together an impressive final performance, never allowing the Leathernecks offense to gain traction.
The Salukis held a 14-0 lead at halftime but wasted no time scoring on each of their first two possessions of the second half to put the game out of reach.
"We know we are a better team than what we showed in the first half," running back Steve Strother said. "Coach Lennon let us have it at halftime. He told us we had to be better. I think everyone stepped up and showed who we are."
The Salukis recorded five sacks, 12 tackles for loss and a blocked punt. In the second half, they allowed just three first downs and 51 yards of total offense.
"I gave (the defense) the challenge at halftime to not give another inch and maybe they took that literally," Lennon said. "We started getting pressure on the quarterback with just four-man rushes, and when we got pressure, we executed very well."
WIU quarterbacks took a beating all afternoon. Starting quarterback Hayden Northern left the game in the final two minutes of the first half with an arm injury and did not return. Southern's defense imposed its will on his replacement, Wil Lunt, who completed just four of his 11 pass attempts and was sacked three times.
"I felt for the Western Illinois quarterback," Lennon said, "because he didn't have the time to find his receivers, but that was our game plan."
After a scoreless first quarter, Southern took a 7-0 lead with the third play of the second quarter when Kory Faulkner faked a handoff and bootlegged untouched into the end zone for a one-yard score.
Midway through the second quarter, SIU linebacker Kevin Reed tipped a pass in the air behind the line of scrimmage and then caught the ball for an interception and an 18-yard touchdown return, which gave SIU a 14-0 advantage. It was the sixth defensive touchdown for SIU on the season.
"Scoring on defense is something that is a key focus," senior defensive end Ken Boatright said. "We try to make big plays and turnovers to help the offense."
Faulkner later connected with David Lewis for a 19-yard touchdown pass over the middle, which gave SIU a 28-0 third quarter lead.
Southern Illinois continued to outplay Western Illinois even after the starters gave way to the second-stringers. Backup A.J. Hill capped the game's scoring with a touchdown pass to Rik Hicks with 6:19 left in the game. It was Hill's first collegiate touchdown pass.
While the two teams put up similar passing totals, SIU ran for 174 yards and held WIU to just 16 yards on the ground.
"We knew we could run," Strother said. "The line had a good week of practice. They were getting a good push all day. A lot of times it was one-on-one with a running back and their safety and we just had to make them miss. The line blocked great all day."
A senior playing in his final game with SIU, Strother ran for a season-best 90 yards on 18 carries. His 43-yard run on the first possession of the second half set up Mika'il McCall's one-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 21-0. Senior Mulku Kalokoh added 40 rushing yards on seven carries.
"The key was when Strother broke the run early in the third quarter," Lennon said. "Sometimes that's what you need, is one play just to get things working."
Despite missing the playoffs by a relatively slim margin, Lennon stressed the importance of this win for the program moving forward with the hopes of competing for a playoff spot in 2013.
"That's why this game was so important," Lennon said. "We want to make a statement that we're a good football team and program. I do feel that we're headed in the direction that we want to head in."