WIU head coach Hendrickson remains positive as Leathernecks aim to snap skid

Freshman Ryan Crandall (57) has gained valuable experience since becoming a starting linebacker in recent weeks. (Photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

By Dan Verdun

Facing a Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent with only one win, Western Illinois closes out its home schedule Saturday determined to get its first victory.

The Leathernecks (0-9 overall, 0-6 MVFC) host Indiana State (1-8, 0-6) at Hanson Field in Macomb for the first time since 2018.

Indiana State chose to not play in the conference-only COVID-spring 2021 season. Therefore, the last two meetings between the teams were played in Terre Haute, both Sycamore wins in 2019 and last fall.

The 2018 game in Macomb certainly turned out to be a heartbreaker for the Leathernecks. Indiana State pulled out a 15-13 win on a last-second field goal that dashed any Western playoff hopes that day.

First-year WIU head coach Myers Hendrickson wasn’t at Hanson Field four years ago. He was instead the offensive coordinator at Northern State, a Division II program in Aberdeen, S.D.

A year later, Hendrickson began his highly successful head coaching run at Kansas Wesleyan, posting a 31-4 record in three seasons before being hired at Western Illinois last offseason.

Despite WIU’s winless season thus far, Hendrickson remains optimistic based on his team rushing for a season-high 133 yards against No. 4 North Dakota State last Saturday.

“We ran the ball well, we played great up front, our offensive line is playing well together,” Hendrickson said. “We’ve played a lot of people there, it’s been a next man up mentality, but they have all the confidence in the world they’ll get it done.

“North Dakota State has one of the best front sevens you’ll see in college football, and we were able to do it against them. We did a lot of good things against their defense,” he said.

Quarterback Clay Bruno led WIU with 42 net rushing yards, while running back Ludovick Choquette added 38.

True freshman Seth Glatz picked up 33 yards on five attempts. The Morton, Ill. product may get more carries against the Sycamores.

This week’s opponent

Indiana State lost 42-7 to nationally ranked North Dakota last weekend in Terre Haute.

Since winning their season opener in overtime, the Sycamores have lost eight straight games.

Redshirt senior Dante Hendrix became the program’s all-time receiving leader a week ago.

Sophomore safety Rylan Cole leads the Sycamores with 74 tackles. Cole has six games with at least eight tackles this fall.

(Kickoff: 1 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: Q981FM.com)

Key matchup to watch

WIU defense vs. Indiana State run game: The Leathernecks rank last among the Missouri Valley’s 11 teams against the run.

Though statistically only the eighth-best rushing offense in the conference, Indiana State did average 6.1 yards per carry in a narrow loss to North Dakota State last month.

Redshirt sophomore Justin Dinka is the MVFC’s third-leading rusher with 725 yards and a 5.8 per carry average. The San Diego State transfer has twice gone over the 150-yard mark this fall.

What’s at stake?

The Leathernecks have not beaten Indiana State since clobbering the Sycamores 45-0 in 2017.

Quick hits

Both head coaches are the sons of coaches. While Myers Hendrickson’s father, Mark, was the WIU head coach from 2008-12, Indiana State’s Curt Mallory is the son of the late Bill Mallory. Curt Mallory is in his sixth season at Indiana State; Bill Mallory is the all-time wins leader in Indiana Hoosiers history. Bill Mallory also served as the head coach at Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Northern Illinois . . . Western holds the longest current FCS losing streak, an 11-game skid dating back to last season.

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