Western rewind: Five turnovers tame Leathernecks in close call against SUU

Western Illinois head coach Myers Hendrickson discusses strategy with his team during a 17-10 loss to Southern Utah. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

By Barry Bottino

Western Illinois head coach Myers Hendrickson stared at the stat sheet Saturday afternoon and was befuddled.

His team had run 20 more plays than Southern Utah in a non-conference game in Macomb. Western (0-3) had 11 more first downs, the same number of yards (347) and only three penalties.

“Looking at these, you’d like to think you’d get 28, 35 points,” the first year WIU coach said. “We weren’t quite there today. It’s frustrating.”

Western’s lone offensive touchdown in the game came with 54 seconds remaining when Rochester native Clay Bruno, playing in his first game of the season, rushed for a 7-yard score. Twenty-one seconds later, though, Southern Utah (2-1) connected on a 73-yard touchdown pass to secure a 17-10 victory on a day in which Western’s defense was much improved from last week’s 52-point loss to Minnesota.

“I love our players,” Hendrickson said. “I feel for them. They played their hearts out.”

Of all the positive numbers, one stat that proved costly for WIU was turnovers. The Leathernecks threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.

“We did some things offensively that we didn’t do all week in practice,” he said. “We teach ball security every day in practice. That’s why it’s hard to comprehend. But a team that battles all the way to the end is the sign of good things.”

Game changers

0:45, 1st quarter: WIU wide receiver Jafar Armstrong was credited with a fumble when the ball was mishandled on a double reverse. Southern Utah recovered at the WIU 5-yard line and took a 10-0 lead two plays later.

3:50, 3rd quarter: With the ball at SUU’s 8-yard line, the Thunderbirds forced WlU quarterback Nick Davenport to fumble. It was the fifth turnover collected on the day.

0:33, 4th quarter: SUU’s Isaiah Wooden broke free down the left sideline for a 73-yard touchdown catch to help the Thunderbirds put the game away.   

What it means

The Leathernecks stayed in a game until the final minutes and gave themselves a chance to in, gaining some confidence. Now it’s on to conference play, where Western is 0-0.

Nifty ‘Necks

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

Juan DelaCruz, LB: The junior from Gurnee had 10 total tackles, including seven solos, and helped disrupt SUU quarterback Justin Miller (18-for 31 passing for 211 yards, one interception, one sack) throughout the day.  

Naseim Brantley, WR: Playing with three different quarterbacks this season, Brantley has continued to shine. He led all players Saturday with eight catches for 116 yards. He leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference in receiving yards per game at 112.3. 

Bruno, QB: The junior scored WIU’s only touchdown of the game and sparked the offense by completing 19 of 31 passes for 220 yards and leading Western with 84 rushing yards. However, he was intercepted twice and sacked twice. 

What’s next?

The Leathernecks open Missouri Valley Football Conference play Sept. 24 with a 3 p.m. home game against Northern Iowa (0-3).

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