SIU wide receiver Jay Jones comes up one short of the end zone Saturday in a 37-36 loss to Northern Iowa. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Barry Bottino
Southern Illinois continued its streaky season Saturday in dramatic fashion.
The Salukis, who opened the season 0-2 before winning five straight, saw their FCS playoff chances take a hit with a 37-36 home loss to Northern Iowa when a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Nic Baker to wide receiver Jay Jones connected one yard shy of the end zone on the game’s final play.
SIU (5-4 overall, 4-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) has lost its past two games by a total of four points.
“It’s mega-disappointing,” SIU fullback Jacob Garrett said. “We’ve had two games come down to the wire like that at home. It just stinks.”
After falling behind 21-10 in the second quarter, Southern rallied to take a 36-31 lead on Avante Cox’s 27-yard touchdown catch at the 11:18 mark in the fourth quarter. A little more than 5 minutes later, UNI quarterback Theo Day threw his fifth touchdown of the day – a 5-yard pass to Desmond Hutson – to help the Panthers (5-4, 4-2) take a 37-36 advantage.
Southern had two chances late, but kicker Jake Baumgarte missed a 41-yard field goal wide right with 47 seconds to go. After the Salukis’ defense forced a three-and-out, SIU took over with 29 seconds left and advanced the ball to the UNI 43-yard line.
Baker’s deep ball was collected by Jones, who was ruled down at the 1, halting SIU’s chance at a victory.
“We fought our tail off,” said Baker, who was 34-for-48 passing for 485 yards and three TDs. “It’s not on any one person. There’s a lot of stuff we could’ve done better individually.”
SIU’s run game sputtered on the day, gaining only 55 yards on 22 carries, a 2.5-yard average.
1:20, 2nd quarter: UNI’s Day threw a 3-yard scoring pass to Sam Schnee, the fourth consecutive TD drive to start the game for UNI.
11:18, 4th quarter: Cox’s 27-yard TD catch gave SIU its first lead since going ahead 3-0 in the first quarter.
5:55, 4th quarter: Day threw his fifth TD and 27 completion – among 32 attempts – to put UNI ahead for good.
What it means
The Salukis lost their second home game in a row, damaging their once-promising FCS playoff hopes. They are now tied with UNI for third place in the MVFC standings.
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Salukis players in the game:
Baker: The SIU quarterback threw for a season-best 485 yards.
Avante Cox: The senior wideout caught a pair of touchdowns among his five receptions and piled up 102 yards.
P.J. Jules, S: Jules had a team-high nine tackles and two pass breakups.
Southern has a bye this week before a Nov. 12 home game against defending national champion North Dakota State.
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