Cody Kirby passed for 254 yards and rushed for 59 yards to help lead Missouri State to a 34-28 come-from-behind win at Illinois State on Saturday, improving the Bears to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the MVFC.
It was the second straight road victory for Missouri State and second straight league win.
Kirby accounted for 313 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, including a season-long 77-yard touchdown pass to Justin Fuselier with 4:50 remaining to secure the win. MSU scored 20 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bears trailed 17-14 at the half, and on its first drive of the second half, Illinois State changed kickers to convert a 43-yard field goal by Zach Kutch and extend its lead to 20-14. The Bears went three-and-out on their opening possession, and then ISU’s Walter Mendenhall accounted for 58 of his team’s 63 yards on the next drive, capping the nine-play march with a three-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Illinois State held a 26-14 lead with 3:24 left in the third.
However, Kirby marched the Bears back 79 yards on 11 plays and capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown of his own – his third of the game – to bring the Bears back within 26-21. Kirby rushed for 16 yards on the drive and passed for 28.
Byron Hightower came up with a critical third-down interception in Bears’ territory to give the ball back to Missouri State with 12:01 to play, killing a long drive by the Redbirds at the MSU 22.
That turnover proved to be costly for the Redbirds as Missouri State took the lead with 8:32 remaining in the game. Stephen Johnston ran 26 yards for a touchdown to cap an eight-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 3:29 after two critical third-down plays on the drive from Kirby to Clay Harbor.
A holding penalty on ISU on its next drive wiped out a 40-yard run by Mendenhall. It proved costly and ultimately led to the Redbirds’ first punt of the game, giving the ball back to the Bears with 6:25 left on their own 17.
On third-and-four at their own 23, Kirby then hit Justin Fuselier with a 77-yard TD strike under pressure, giving MSU its longest play of the year and a 34-26 lead with 4:50 remaining. The touchdown pass was Kirby’s 10th of the season and gave him a touchdown pass in seven straight games.
Terian Washington sacked Kevin Brockway on fourth down on ISU’s final possession. The Bears took over downs and surrendered a safety in an attempt to run out the clock and secure the 34-28 win.
Kingjack Washington led MSU on the ground with 17 carries for 85 yards, and Clay Harbor led the receivers with 6 catches for 66 yards, extending his streak to 17 games with at least one reception.
The game started with Illinois State getting on the board first, capitalizing on MSU’s third opening-possession fumble of the season and converting it into a 27-yard field by Steven Fetzer 11 plays later after taking over at the Bears’ 47.
MSU drove to the Redbirds’ 11 yard line on the ensuing drive, but a 29-yard field goal attempt by Matt Hottelman went wide right. It was just Hottelman’s second miss in seven attempts on the season.
The Bears got the ball back late in the opening period on an interception by Tony Randolph, the first of his career. A 20-yard completion on third down from Cody Kirby to Chase Mejia extended the drive to the Illinois State 20 yard line. Cody Kirby then scrambled right on an option and found pay dirt from five yards out for the touchdown. Kirby’s score, his fourth rushing touchdown of the season, capped an 8-play 55 yard drive that gave the Bears a 7-3 lead.
Illinois State responded with a 53-yard touchdown run by Geno Blow to retake the lead, 10-7, just four plays later.
The Bears had a 36-yard completion from Kirby to Chris Geisz and a 8-yard run by Kirby, both of which would have resulted in first downs, negated on holding penalties on their next possession of the second quarter. The Bears had four penalties for 35 yards on the drive which ultimately stalled.
Parrish Fisher extended Illinois State’s lead to 17-7 with a four-yard touchdown run with 5:29 left in the first half. His run and Fetzer’s PAT capped an eight-play, 79-yard Redbirds’ scoring drive.
Kirby drove the Bears back on their final play of the half, dancing into the endzone from two yards out. Hottelman added the PAT with 1:22 left to play, and the Bears’ 11-play, 79-yard touchdown drive pulled them within 17-14.
Blow’s first carry of the next possession went for 50 yards, putting him over the century mark in the first half. A 29-yard field goal by Fetzer on the final play of the half was blocked by Jeremy Dawson.