Nov. 19, 2011
By Scott Gierman
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Southern Illinois closed out the season with 35-28 victory Saturday after capitalizing on Indiana State mistakes.
Safety Mike McElroy intercepted Ronnie Fouch's pass at the Salukis' one-yard line with 0:51 left in the game to preserve the win for Southern (4-7, 2-6) over the Sycamores (6-5, 4-4). It was the second interception of the game for the senior, who was playing in his final game in an SIU uniform.
"It was exciting being able to go out with a win and to have some big plays," McElroy said. "That's something that I'm always going to remember."
For the second week in a row SIU was able to close out a win with big plays late in a see-saw battle.
"I think we just had enough," McElroy said. "Last week we were up, and we broke through that wall. This week we just grinded it out and were able to get the win like the Salukis of old."
Southern took the lead on Jewel Hampton's second touchdown run of the game, a one-yard plunge that gave SIU a 35-28 lead with 6:13 left in the game. Hampton finished the game with a career high 178 yards on 35 carries.
SIU took a 21-0 lead into the half but allowed 21 unanswered third quarter points. Indiana State finally got on the board with Ronnie Fouch's 72-yard touchdown pass to Donald Spencer with 7:26 left in the third quarter. That cut the lead to 21-7. Fouch found Spencer again for a 50-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 1:41 left in the third.
McElroy shifted the momentum back into Southern's favor with his first pick of the game, which he returned 31 yards to the end zone to give SIU its first defensive touchdown of the season and a 28-21 lead with 12:29 left in the game. He finished his career with 15 interceptions, third most in school history.
The Saluki defense held Shakir Bell, the nation's leading rusher, to just 25 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but he came to life in the second half. He finished the game with 137 yards on 24 carries before he had to be helped off the field with what appeared to be a right knee injury on ISU's final drive of the game.
After struggling to consistently move the ball on their first four possessions, the Salukis broke through midway through the second quarter on Kory Faulkner's seven-yard scramble to give SIU a 7-0 lead. The drive stayed alive when Faulkner was set to pooch punt from the ISU 39, but an offsides call gave SIU a fresh set of downs.
The Sycamores fumbled deep in their own territory on each of their next two possessions, leading to rushing touchdowns from Hampton and another by Faulkner.
With the win, SIU has won eight consecutive regular seaason finales. McElroy shared his thoughts that the Salukis had some extra motivation to finish the game strong.
"We just had to believe," McElroy said. "And a lot of the seniors were in there talking about, hey, we have six minutes left in their career. Let's do it for us, let's do it for these guys, and so I think the younger guys rallied and were able to find something extra, and the seniors were able to just give it all they had and finish it out."