Southern rewind: Salukis falter late at Youngstown, finish season at 5-6

Avante Cox scored on a 70-yard touchdown Saturday in Southern Illinois’ 28-21 overtime loss to Youngstown State. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

In June, Southern Illinois was ranked No. 7 in the Athlon Sports preseason national FCS poll.

When the Salukis ended their season Saturday in Ohio, they had suffered four straight losses to finish with a losing record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2019.

Youngstown State scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including two in the final 75 seconds, to knock off SIU, 28-21, and send Southern to a 5-6 overall record and 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“Whether we got in the playoffs or not, we wanted to end (the regular season) with a win versus the feeling we have right now, which is a tough pill to swallow,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said.

SIU turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions from quarterback Nic Baker – who also threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns – and lost for the fifth time in the final minute and by a touchdown or less this season.

“As the head coach, when you lose a lot of one-score games, you gotta look at yourself first,” Hill said. “That’s really what’s on my mind – what do I have to learn to not let this feeling happen again in the future.”

SIU wide receivers – and twin brothers – D’Ante’ Cox (five catches, 108 yards, one TD) and Avante Cox (four receptions, 91 yards, one TD) were a big part of the SIU offense, which built a 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.  

Youngstown (7-4, 5-3) kept its playoff hopes alive with the victory.

Game changers

1:14, 4th quarter: Following a missed SIU field goal, Youngstown drove 73 yards for the tying touchdown, a 7-yard pass from QB Mitch Davidson to WR Bryce Oliver.

0:35, 4th quarter: After an SIU three-and-out on offense inside its own 10-yard line, YSU responded by driving 33 yards for the winning TD, a 22-yard scoring run by Jaleel McLaughlin.

0:30, 4th quarter: Youngstown State defensive back Marcus Hooker intercepted a deep ball from Baker at the YSU 31-yard line to stop the Saluki’s last-gasp drive.

What it means

SIU ends the season with a losing record and a four-game losing streak after starting 5-2.

Top Dawgs

Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Salukis players in the game:

The Cox twins, WR: In their final college game, the SIU brothers combined for 199 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Baker, QB: The junior threw for three scores and 320 yards, his second-highest yardage total of the season.

D.J. Johnson, CB: The SIU defensive back had a season-high nine tackles in the game.

What’s next?

The Salukis begin the 2023 season with a non-conference home game Sept. 2 against Austin Peay.

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