Wenkers Wright rushes for part of his career-best 180 yards Saturday in Illinois State’s 27-21 victory in Terre Haute. (Photo by GoRedbirds.com)
By Barry Bottino
On a day when Illinois State racked up multiple career-best offensive efforts, the Redbirds needed their defense to hold on for a 27-21 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory against Indiana State.
The Redbirds (5-2 overall, 3-1 MVFC) won their third game in a row and collected a win in Terre Haute, Ind., for the first time since 2014 thanks to sophomore cornerback Keondre Jackson’s interception at the Illinois State 2-yard line in the game’s final seconds.
Illinois State had two different double-digit leads in the second half before the pesky Sycamores (1-6, 0-4) closed the gap to six points late in the third quarter and again early in the fourth quarter. The Redbirds began the game racing to a 20-0 first-quarter lead.
“I wouldn’t (say) that we had it in control,” Redbirds head coach Brock Spack told WJBC radio. “This is a tough place for us to play.”
Playing without injured starting linebackers Zeke Vandenburgh, who was added this week to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list for the top defensive player in FCS, and Cade Campos, Illinois State leaned on Jeremiah Jordan and Lavoise-Deonte McCoy, who combined for nine tackles. McCoy had six of those tackles and Jordan added three quarterback hurries.
An Illinois State spokesperson said Vandenburgh, who started the day ranked second nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, is considered day to day with a leg contusion.
On Indiana State’s final three drives in the fourth quarter, the Redbirds forced a punt, a turnover on downs and got the interception from Jackson.
“We’re very comfortable with our depth,” Spack said.
Running back Wenkers Wright rushed for a career-best 180 yards and was joined in the exemplary offensive efforts by wide receiver Jalen Carr (six receptions, career-high 99 yards, TD) and quarterback Zack Annexstad (career-best 274 passing yards, two passing TDs, two rushing TDs).
Despite the offensive success, Spack did not like his team’s two turnovers or a blocked field goal, a missed field goal and a missed extra point by Ian Wagner.
“We were our own worst enemy,” he said. “It could’ve easily been 35-7 at halftime (instead of 20-7). … These kickers are driving me crazy right now.”
1:27, 1st quarter: Zack Annexstad threw an 18-yard scoring pass to his brother, Brock, to put the Redbirds up, 20-0.
10:18, 3rd quarter: Indiana State wide receiver Dante Hendrix eluded multiple Redbird defenders and raced down the sideline for a 67-yard TD catch to close the Illinois State lead to 27-21.
0:04, 4th quarter: Jackson intercepts Indiana State QB Cade Chambers to end the game.
What it means
The streaking Redbirds are now in third place in the MVFC heading into the final four games of the season, which include road trips to North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Redbirds in the game:
Wright: The redshirt freshman, who played high school football in Indiana, carried the ball 36 times, averaged 5 yards a carry and had a long run of 48 yards.
Sy Dabney, safety: The transfer from Bowling Green had a team-best seven tackles and a sack.
Jordan: Along with his three total tackles, the linebacker had a key tackle for loss on third down with just under 3 minutes left in the game.
Illinois State hits the road Oct. 29 for a 2:30 p.m. MVFC game in Fargo against defending national champion North Dakota State.