Southern rewind: Touchdown in waning seconds leaves Salukis stunned & off to worst start since 2015

SIU receiver D’Ante Cox leaps for a pass during Saturday’s game at Saluki Stadium. Ty Leonard (5) defends for Southeast Missouri. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill didn’t mince words in the aftermath of Saturday’s last-second loss in his team’s home opener at Saluki Stadium.

“We’re going to own what we are, we’re 0-2,” Hill said. “We got beat on the road and didn’t play well (last week), and then we came home with an opportunity to respond, a rivalry game, and we got beat at home. There’s no pointing fingers. We have to rally together and stay together, which we will. It starts with me at the top.”

Southeast Missouri State, SIU’s non-conference regional rival, scored with 11 seconds remaining to pull out a 34-31 stunner in the annual “War for the Wheel” traveling trophy game.

The Salukis were seeking a rebound win after a one-sided loss Sept. 3 at Incarnate Word. Saturday’s defeat, which featured nine lead changes, didn’t provide that.

Asked which loss stings more by Mike Reis of SIU Radio in the postgame, Saluki receiver Avante Cox had no trouble choosing.

“Definitely this week. Last week we did not execute but still left a lot on the table,” Cox said. “Definitely this week because that was a great game we could have won.”

Thus, SIU begins its season 0-2 for the first time since 2015.

Meanwhile, SEMO evened its record at 1-1 following an opening week loss at Iowa State.

Game changers

Inside a minute left to play, 4th quarter: With SEMO facing a 4th-and-9 at the SIU 22-yard line, SIU corner DJ Johnson was flagged for pass interference, giving the Redhawks a first down at the 11-yard line.

Four plays later, 4th quarter: SEMO again faced fourth down, this time with two yards to go at the SIU three-yard line. Johnson, who transferred to SIU in 2021 after previously playing at Iowa and Purdue, was again called for pass interference.

According to, Hill protested both calls on the field, but said he didn’t discuss officiating with his team afterward.

“We have to win the football game before we let referees decide the outcome of the game,” Hill said. “I didn’t bring up the referees one time in the locker room.”

0:11, 4th quarter: SEMO quarterback Paxton DeLaurent rolled to his right and found receiver Damoriea Vick for the game-deciding touchdown. The TD capped a drive that began at the SEMO 24-yard line with 2:45 on the clock.

What it means

SIU entered Saturday ranked No. 17 in the Stats Perform FCS poll and 19th in the Coaches poll. The 0-2 start likely drops the Salukis from the Top 25.

Top ‘Dawgs

Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Saluki players in the game:

Nic Baker, QB: The redshirt junior completed 20-of-36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

Avante Cox, WR: The senior led the Salukis with seven receptions for 86 yards. Cox caught the two TD passes from Baker.

PJ Jules, CB: The junior tied for a game-high eight tackles — seven solo — to go along with two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.

What’s next?

SIU plays at Northwestern (1-1) Sept. 17. The game is an 11 a.m. kickoff.

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