Fullback Jacob Garrett celebrates one of his two touchdown receptions Saturday for the Salukis in their 31-24 victory against Northwestern. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Barry Bottino
EVANSTON — Southern Illinois football coach Nick Hill said he didn’t hear much this week from his starting quarterback, Nic Baker.
“He wasn’t talking,” Hill said. “The office where he watches film is next to mine and he lived in there this week. He was ready to compete.
“He’s just not used to losing much and it bothers him.”
Baker’s competitive streak was on full display Saturday as he threw three touchdowns and ran for another in the Salukis’ 31-24 upset of Big Ten Conference member Northwestern at Ryan Field.
The victory was SIU’s first of the season after starting 0-2.
“Being 0-3 and being 1-2 having beaten a Big Ten team is a big difference,” said Baker, who opened the game with 11 straight completions. “We didn’t blink. We were confident. It means a lot to come out and win, period.”
Baker connected twice with fullback Jacob Garrett for scores.
The SIU defense, which allowed 98 points in the first two weeks of the season, complemented the offense by intercepting two passes and recovering two fumbles.
“We didn’t play well the first two weeks,” Hill said. “You’ve gotta own that. We really made (Northwestern) grind and earn everything. We tackled the ball carrier. There weren’t a lot of big, explosive runs. We settled down and played outstanding defense.”
Safety P.J. Jules led the defense with 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
2:04, 2nd quarter: Baker hit Garrett for a 19-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14-14.
8:20, 4th quarter: SIU defensive lineman Richie Hagarty forced a fumble by Northwestern running back Evan Hull, and linebacker Chris Harris Jr. recovered to stop a Wildcats drive.
6:10, 4th quarter: Jules stripped the ball from Northwestern QB Ryan Hilinski and defensive lineman Nick Okeke recovered.
What it means
The victory was only SIU’s second in school history against a Big Ten team and gave the Salukis some confidence heading into Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Salukis players in the game:
Baker: The SIU quarterback threw three touchdowns and completed 11 straight passes to start the game.
Javon Williams: The do-it-all running back rushed for 55 yards, completed a 12-yard pass and collected four receptions for 48 yards.
Branson Combs, LB: The linebacker intercepted Hilinski in the second quarter and returned the ball 19 yards. He also had five tackles.
SIU opens the Missouri Valley Football Conference season with a home game against North Dakota at 2 p.m. Sept. 24.