Western rewind: Stubborn Leathernecks fall in overtime, finish winless season

Western Illinois linebacker Juan DelaCruz wraps up Illinois State tight end Bryson Deming Saturday in Normal. DelaCruz posted a season-high 13 tackles. (Photo by GoRedbirds.com)

By Barry Bottino

NORMAL – The final score of Saturday’s game at Illinois State didn’t matter much to Myers Hendrickson.

“The wins and losses don’t define us,” the Western Illinois head coach said. “Our effort, attitude of never quit and toughness, that’s what really shined through.”

Western’s 20-13 overtime loss sent the Leathernecks (0-11 overall, 0-8 Missouri Valley Football Conference) to their 13th defeat in a row and the school’s first winless season since 1944.

But a powerful rushing game and an attacking defense helped WIU make life difficult on Illinois State (6-5, 4-4).

Senior Erin Collins, playing in his final college game, had a career day with 163 yards rushing on 33 carries. His 11-yard, second-quarter touchdown burst was the first by a WIU running back all season and only the team’s second rushing TD this fall.

“We came into this game wanting to attack with the ground game, and we did that,” said Collins, who had 119 yards at halftime.

With a 20 mph wind blowing across the field and shifting throughout the game, Western’s run game, thanks to plenty of two-tight end formations, helped the Leathernecks control the ball for 29 minutes, 41 seconds – nearly 6 minutes more than their season average.

Freshman running back Seth Glatz of Morton added a career-best 78 yards on 17 carries.

“Erin had a lot of broken tackles,” Hendrickson said. “Glatz was able to come in and do some nice things. Up front, the offensive line played great. All those guys … put us in position to win the game.”

On defense, Western sacked ISU quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse five times, including two by linebacker Sam Cook, who also had an interception.

Junior linebacker Juan DelaCruz had 13 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack.

“Our plan was to stop the run. We did a pretty good job of that,” DelaCruz said of WIU, which allowed 146 yards on the ground, nearly 100 yards below its average. “It’s just unfortunate what happened at the end.”

Collins’ TD tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter before ISU answered with a two-yard Wenkers Wright scoring run to lead 13-7 at half. A pair of Mason Laramie field goals – including a 41-yarder with 45 seconds left in regulation – helped Western tie the game.

In overtime, Rittenhouse’s 8-yard touchdown run on the first possession gave ISU the 20-13 lead before the Redbirds’ defense held Western to 0 combined yards on its overtime possession, sacking starting quarterback Henry Ogala on fourth down to claim the victory.

“We’re going to battle,” Hendrickson said. “Playing 60-plus minutes on the road against your rival in tough elements, I feel it showed a lot of resolve.”

Game changers

13:15, 2nd quarter: Collins rushed for an 11-yard score, which was the first TD on the ground by a WIU running back all season.

9:20, 3rd quarter: With ISU driving, DelaCruz forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Bryce Cross at the Western 36-yard line.

0:45, 4th quarter: Laramie connected on a 33-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

What it means

Western completed its first winless season since 1944, when the Leathernecks finished 0-8 under head coach Bob Barnwell.

Nifty ‘Necks

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

Collins, RB: In his final college game, the Northern Illinois transfer piled up a whopping 163 yards on 33 carries. He also had a rushing TD.

DelaCruz, LB: The junior from Gurnee had a season-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles and a strip sack.

Laramie, K: The senior from Schaumburg hit two clutch kicks in the third and fourth quarter to send the game to OT.

What’s next?

The Leathernecks open the 2023 season with a non-conference road game at New Mexico State.

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