Dec. 1, 2007
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Nick Hill threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns and No. 4 Southern Illinois University (12-1) scored 20 first-quarter points in an impressive 34-27 win over Massachusetts (10-3) earlier today in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Football Championship.
SIU saw its season end in the quarterfinals each of the last two years, but broke through that barrier today.
The Salukis, who advance to the semi-finals for the first time in 24 years, host Delaware Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m., CST. That game will be televised live from McAndrew Stadium on ESPN2.
"This is a great moment for us," said an elated Saluki head coach Jerry Kill. "We're very excited about the win. We executed well and made plays when we needed to."
SIU jumped on UMass early, scoring on its first three possessions of the game.
Nick Hill threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to tight end Byron Gettis on the third play of the game to give the Salukis a 7-0 lead. Gettis caught the ball along the far sideline and sprinted to the end zone.
Richard White's 10-yard run capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive the next time SIU had the ball. White's fourth rushing TD of the year extended the Salukis' lead to 13-0.
UMass got on the board with a 46-yard field goal by Chris Koepplin, before SIU answered with a 7-play, 80-yard march that culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Hill to fullback Rick Burgess.
SIU went on to build a 27-13 lead at the half.
Larry Warner broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game to push SIU's lead to 34-13 with 6:52 left.
That play, along with the fact, SIU's defense intercepted UMass quarterback Liam Coen three times, held up as the difference in the 34-27 win.
Hill completed 13-of-23 passes en route to throwing for over 200 yards for the ninth time this season.
"It was another great start and we caught them off-guard," said Hill. "We executed and did a good job of putting points on the board."
John Randle (86 yards), Warner (64 yards, 1 TD) and White (62 yards, 1 TD) keyed a balanced Saluki rushing attack that finished with 246 yards.
Gettis made two huge catches for a career-high 104 yards and one TD. Gettis only had six catches through 11 games prior to today.
"My eyes just blew up and I just wanted to make a play on the ball," said Cloud when asked about his interception in the third quarter.
Craig Turner had a total of 125 return yards, including 26 on punts and 99 on kickoffs. He became the Gateway Conference's all-time career leader in punt return yards.
SIU (462) and UMass (522) combined for 984 yards of total offense. The Salukis put up the most yards of total offense against the Minutemen this season. And, SIU's 20 points in the game's first 15 minutes, were the most scored in the first quarter against UMass since 2002.
Liam Coen completed 28-of-42 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns to lead UMass offensively. Coen also threw three interceptions in a game for the first time in his career.
Matt Lawrence also had a big day for the Minutemen, rushing for a game-high 112 yards on 24 attempts.
SIU is the last Gateway Conference team standing in this year's NCAA Division I Football Championship after Delaware knocked off No. 1-seeded Northern Iowa. The Salukis, who were eliminated by the Blue Hens in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, get a re-match with Delaware. This time it's for a ticket to Chattanooga.