Nov. 22, 2008
By Jeff Honza
NORMAL, Ill. - No. 9 Southern Illinois University (9-2, 7-1) used a 29-yard touchdown pass from Chris Dieker to Ryan Kernes and a huge goal line stand to bury Illinois State (3-8, 2-6), 17-10, in overtime earlier today at Hancock Stadium.
SIU won a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title and clinched the league's automatic postseason berth. The Salukis, who advance to the postseason for the sixth year in a row, have won or shared the conference championship four times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008) in their football history.
ISU tied things up at 10-10 and sent the game to overtime when Kevin Brockway threw a 8-yard touchdown pass to Eyad Salem with 44 seconds left in regulation.
SIU had the ball on the first possession of overtime and faced a 3rd-and-14 when Dieker found a wide open Kernes in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
"This wasn't our best game overall, but we hung in there and found a way to win at the end," said SIU head coach Dale Lennon, who became only the third coach in Valley Football history to win a conference title his first year coaching in the league. "Football is a game of inches and it was today."
SIU had a hard time finding its rhythm offensively, but made up for it with outstanding defense. Especially, in the fourth quarter, where the Salukis forced fumbles on three-consecutive possessions.
On ISU's ensuing possession, Brockway fumbled the snap and Jason Seaman recovered at the Redbirds' 19-yardline. Four plays later, Larry Warner scored on a 6-yard run to give SIU a 10-3 lead with 2:51 on the clock.
ISU fumbled again the next time it had the ball. The Redbirds, who maintained possession, went on to march 62 yards in eight plays en route to their game-tying score.
In the first half, Kyle Dougherty's career-long 52-yard field goal gave SIU a 3-0 edge with 11:15 left to play in the second quarter. Dougherty became the first Saluki to kick a field goal of 50 or more yards in four years.
ISU answered when Zach Kutch's 21-yard field goal knotted the game at 3-3 with 8:34 remaining. Mendenhall broke free for runs of 45 and 27 yards on consecutive plays to set up Kutch's kick. That score would hold up at halftime.
SIU finished with 311 yards of total offense, including 138 on the ground and 173 through the air. The Salukis also turned the ball over twice.
Dieker completed 20-of-35 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown and Warner ran for 49 yards and one TD on 13 carries to lead the Dawgs. Warner finished with 94 all-purpose yards, and as a result, became only the fourth Saluki to register 2,000 or more all-purpose yards in a season. He has 2,027 all-purpose yards in 11 games this year.
"Our defense is what carried us through the game," said Lennon. "I've always believed defense wins championships. We did what we had to do to limit the points on the board and give ourselves a chance at the end."
Mendenhall ran for 156 yards on 22 carries to lead ISU, which became the first opponent to rush for over 100 yards against SIU in six-straight games. The Redbirds outrushed the Salukis, 234-138.
Moments after the game, Denver Johnson announced his resignation as ISU's head coach, a position he held for the last nine years.
Today marked SIU's sixth overtime game. The Salukis improved to 3-3 in such contests.
SIU, which closed out the regular-season on a seven-game winning streak, will find out who it will face in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Sunday. The NCAA Selection Show will be televised live at 6 p.m., CT, on ESPNU.
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