D’Ante’ Cox caught this touchdown with 39 seconds remaining in Saturday’s game at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Dan Verdun
On a day movie trivia fans mark as the date Marty McFly first went “Back to the Future,” Southern Illinois appeared on the verge of a repeat lightning strike.
For much of Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference game, the Salukis seemed like there might be a season-saving win over No. 4-ranked North Dakota State.
Such a win would have harkened back to SIU’s historic upset of the then No. 1-ranked Bison in the COVID-spring 2021 season.
However, this sequel was not to be as the Bison (8-2 overall, 6-1 MVFC) rallied for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to hold off the Salukis (5-5, 4-3) for a 21-18 final.
SIU took a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but a critical play on the ensuing kickoff produced 30 yards of penalties and set up the NDSU comeback. The Bison drove 54 yards on a 10-play touchdown drive, including a third-and-11 conversion.
“That series of events really swung the game,” SIU head Nick Hill said. “We couldn’t get off the field.”
NDSU added an insurance touchdown with 4:40 left. Those points turned out to be needed as SIU scored on a 6-yard pass from Nic Baker to D’Ante’ Cox with 39 seconds left. A two-point conversion pass to Avante Cox accounted for the final score.
NDSU linebacker James Kaczor recovered the SIU onside kick, and the Bison ran out the clock.
“They’ve been scoring 30-plus points a game,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said of SIU on inforum.com. “I think they’ve got a really good quarterback, one of the most dynamic in our league . . . For four quarters, all three phases had to play really hard.
“Did we play perfect? No. We kept the ball in front of us. We made them earn everything.”
Under 7:00, 3rd quarter: On a third-and-14, Baker completed a 15-yard pass to Pop Jones III for a first down at the NDSU 14. SIU completed the drive five plays later on fullback Jacob Garrett’s 1-yard touchdown run giving the Salukis the 10-7 lead.
5:15, 3rd quarter: On the ensuing kickoff, SIU’s Louis Wilbert brought down NDSU returner DJ Hart at the Bison 16 yard-line. However, 30 yards of penalties were assessed against SIU — a targeting penalty on Wilbert with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty added.
14:21, 4th quarter: NDSU reclaimed the lead for good when quarterback Cam Miller ran up the middle and into the end zone on third-and-4 from the 5-yard line.
What it means
SIU, ranked in the Top 10 in many of the preseason polls, may well be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
However, Hill and his players aren’t closing the book on the season just yet.
“You show up every single day ready to work, ready to grow, get better, until they tell you your season’s over,” Hill said. “That’s the mentality.”
Garrett said, “”We’ve seen UNI (Northern Iowa) get in at 6-5 before (in 2021) with some quality wins and quality, if you will, losses. It’s obvious we can compete with any of those teams in the top 5.”
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Saluki players in the game:
Javon Williams Jr., RB: With Justin Strong and Ro Elliott out, the all-purpose back carried the load with 66 yards on 21 attempts.
Baker, QB: The record-setting junior completed 14-of-23 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. Baker also rushed for a net of 44 yards, including a 29-yard carry.
Chris Harris Jr., LB: The Georgia Southern transfer led SIU with nine tackles, including one for loss.
The Salukis travel to Youngstown State Nov. 19 for their final regular-season game. The Penguins (6-4) saw their four-game winning streak snapped with a 25-22 loss Saturday at Missouri State.