Receiver Avante Cox (11) scored on a 67-yard pass play in SIU’s victory Saturday at Saluki Stadium. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
Any thoughts of a Southern Illinois letdown after knocking off Northwestern a week ago were quickly put to rest.
The Salukis (2-2, 1-0) cruised past North Dakota (2-2, 1-1) for a 34-17 win in their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener.
SIU, ranked No. 24 in the recent FCS polls, built a 24-10 halftime lead and never looked back against the 19th-rated Fighting Hawks.
“This one feels just the same as the Northwestern win. Being 1-0 in the conference is all we were shooting for,” said receiver Avante Cox on SIUSalukis.com.
Defensive lineman Richie Hagarty added, “We didn’t take Northwestern as a huge win. We took it as a good win, but move on to the next. We have conference, we have bigger goals to achieve. We realized we had to come together as a unit and become one. We showed it at Northwestern and even more today.”
SIU piled up 458 yards of total offense while limiting UND to 271. In addition, the Salukis registered seven sacks.
“We pressed hard in the first couple games, wanting to make a play,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “It hurts you to do that. You have to allow the game to come to you and trust the other 10 guys to do their job.
“When the ball comes to you, and you’re asked to make an individual play, you gotta go make that play. You just have to play sound football.”
4:25, 2nd quarter: North Dakota had a first-and-goal on the SIU 3, when Saluki linebacker George Douglas IV dropped Fighting Hawk QB Tommy Schuster for four-yard loss. Defensive end Quinton Lee registered a sack on the next play and UND ultimately had to settle for a field goal.
Under two minutes, 2nd quarter: Javon Williams Jr. lined up as quarterback and completed a 21-yard pass to Avante Cox for a first down into UND territory. The Salukis capped the drive with a Nic Baker-to-Cox eight-yard TD with just seven seconds remaining before halftime.
3:40, 3rd quarter: North Dakota’s last gasp ended when safety Clayton Bush jarred a pass out of the hands of receiver Bo Belquist on a fourth down play inside the red zone.
What it means
After starting the year with two losses, SIU has seemingly turned its season around with a pair of impressive victories.
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Saluki players in the game:
Baker, QB: Last week’s Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Week continued his hot hand. Baker completed 21-of-27 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns.
Avante Cox, WR: The senior reeled in seven passes for 90 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Hagarty, DE: The sophomore transfer from Miami (Ohio) had three tackles, two sacks and a quarterback hurry.
SIU plays at rival Illinois State Oct. 1 in Normal. The Redbirds (2-1) will be coming off their bye week.