A 51-yard touchdown pass from Chris Dieker to Marc Cheatham as time expired gave No. 13 Southern Illinois a 23-17 win over Missouri State here Saturday afternoon in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
The Salukis (5-2, 4-1) avoided their third overtime game with the Bears since 1995 when Dieker scrambled left, eluded two would-be tacklers and hit a wide-open Cheatham for the game-winning score.
The three-play, 66-yard drive seemed improbable as the homestanding Bears (3-4, 2-3) tied the game, 17-17, with 18 seconds remaining in the fourth when Cody Kirby hit Brandon Oliver for a 26-yard touchdown strike to cap a seven-play, 87-yard drive that brought the Plaster Field crowd to its feet. Kirby passed for 63 yards and rushed for nine more on the drive and extended his streak to eight consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.
Missouri State’s Matt Hottelman converted a 20-yard field goal to make it a 17-10 game with 4:11 to play as Kirby passed for 40 yards on the 12-play, 76 yard drive for the Bears’ first offensive score of the day.
The Salukis scored 20 points in the final period, first on a one-yard sneak by Dieker with 11:50 left in the quarter, and then on a 29-yard pass from Dieker to Cheatham with 9:03 left. The first Saluki scoring drive of the final period consumed 77 yards in 7:02 to build a 17-7 lead.
The Bears got on the board for the first time with 3:59 left in the third period when Cory Harbor blocked a Scott Ravanesi punt. Derek Miller picked up the loose ball and scrambled 36 yards for a touchdown, and Matt Hottelman’s extra point gave MSU a 7-3 lead.
Larry Warner rushed 26 times for a career-high 167 yards for the Salukis, who rolled up 255 ground yards and 498 total yards.
Missouri State was held to just 32 rushing yards on 24 carries – their lowest rushing total since Nov. 6, 2004 against Western Kentucky – while Kirby was 22-for-40 for 253 yards. Chase Mejia was Kirby’s favorite target, grabbing 5 receptions for 47 total yards. The Bears finished with 285 yards total offense.
Kirby’s 22 completions matched a career high as he finished with his fourth 200-yard passing game of the season and seventh of his career while becoming the eighth MSU quarterback to accumulate 3,000 career passing yards.
The Bears forced five turnovers in the contest, their most this season, but were unable to come up with any points off of the three SIU lost fumbles and two interceptions.
An 18-yard field goal by Southern Illinois’ Kyle Dougherty with 42 seconds left in the second quarter accounted for the only scoring in the first half, despite four turnovers forced by the Bears’ defense in the first half.
Tony Randolph and Sam Block topped the Bears’ defense with 10 tackles apiece and a fumble recovery, while Byron Hightower, Jr. had eight total stops, as did Roger Wright.
Missouri State takes to the road next Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff against South Dakota State.