Illinois State tight end Tanner Taula celebrates the game-winning touchdown Saturday in Normal. (Photo by GoRedbirds.com)
By Barry Bottino
Catching the game-winning touchdown pass Saturday in a 12-10 victory against South Dakota presented a couple of big challenges for Illinois State senior tight end Tanner Taula.
First, it was making his way to the end zone. Second, it was locating the ball.
Taula got caught up in traffic on his route and wasn’t exactly sure where the ball was.
“I didn’t do the best job of getting out clean,” he joked after the game. “I got bounced around by some (linebackers).”
When he did get to the end zone, he couldn’t see quarterback Zack Annexstad or the football.
“I was looking, and thinking ‘Hopefully the ball is coming somewhere,’” he said.
Taula grabbed on to the ball, his first touchdown of the season, at the 3:28 mark of the third quarter on Annexstad’s floating 2-yard pass to help ISU (4-2 overall, 2-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) take the lead.
The Redbird defense then closed out a game in which points were difficult to produce.
“Neither football team moved the ball with a lot of efficiency,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said in his postgame press conference. “We found a way to win. They took our running game away early. They played our (passing) routes really tight. They didn’t give us a lot of room, particularly in our intermediate passing game and our quick passing game.”
The ISU defense limited South Dakota (1-5, 0-3) to 11 first downs and 249 yards of offense. The Redbirds were held to 84 rushing yards, 16 first downs and 264 total yards.
Both conference wins for ISU have come by two points.
“It’s huge for us as a team,” senior linebacker Kenton Wilhoit said of the close calls. “It shows that we’re guys that fight, and we’re ready to play all the way to the fourth quarter.”
3:28, 3rd quarter: Taula hauled in a 2-yard pass from Annexstad for ISU’s only TD of the game, erasing a 10-6 deficit.
2:10, 4th quarter: ISU’s defense stopped South Dakota on third-down and 15 near midfield, forcing a punt. The Redbirds forced punts on three of USD’s final four drives of the game.
1:14, 4th quarter: Annexstad ran four yards for a first down on a play he said was designed to go to running back Wenkers Wright to seal the victory.
What it means
ISU is one of three one-loss teams in the MVFC, thanks to a sturdy defense and some timely offense. However, the Redbirds’ four wins have come against teams with a combined record of 9-16.
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top Redbirds in the game:
Taula: Along with his first TD catch of the season, the senior tight end led all players with five catches and had a team-best 56 yards. Over the past two weeks, he has had 12 catches.
Deandre Lamont, DB and Jude Okolo, DL: On a day when the defenses shined, Lamont had a game-high nine tackles and Okolo had 1.5 of his team’s six tackles for loss.
Ian Wagner, K: The redshirt freshman from O’Fallon High School in southern Illinois booted two first-half field goals, including a career-best 45-yarder, to keep ISU in the game.
ISU starts a stretch of three road games in the next four weeks with a noon game Oct. 22 at Indiana State.
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