Visiting Illinois State held Missouri State scoreless in the second half and added a fourth-quarter field goal to secure a 24-14 win over the Bears in Missouri Valley Football Conference play here Saturday.
The Bears fell to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the conference, while Illinois State (4-4, 3-2) spoiled MSU’s homecoming with a steady running attack led by Cliffton Gordon. The sophomore running back carried 30 times for 122 yards, including 67 in a stalemate of a second half, while freshman quarterback Matt Brown added 133 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
After falling behind 21-14 at the half, Missouri State had opportunities in the second half, but it could not convert them into points. The longest drive of the half took the Bears to the Illinois State 32 early in the fourth quarter, but with the wind at his back, Matt Hottelman missed a 49-yard field goal wide left to secure a 21-14 ISU lead at the time.
The Redbirds responded with an 11-play, 43-yard drive to the MSU 25 which set up a 42-yard field goal by Zach Kutch to give ISU a double-figure lead, 24-14.
MSU would turn the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter, including what looked to be a promising drive into ISU territory in the final two minutes. However, the drive stalled at the ISU 36 when Cody Kirby’s fourth-and-eight pass attempt sailed well over his target’s head to end the threat.
Illinois State took over with 1:09 remaining and ran out the clock to return the favor after the Bears upended the Redbirds on their Homecoming in Normal a year ago, 34-28.
Kirby finished with 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19-of-32 pass attempts. The junior moved into a tie with Mitch Ware (1976-79) and Jeremy Hoog (1994-97) for first place in MSU career touchdown passes with 36 in posting his 13th 200-yard passing game.
Tight end Clay Harbor also had a big game for the Bears with eight receptions for 102 yards to move into sole possession of first place on the school’s all-time receptions list with 138. It was the All-American’s third 100-yard receiving game of the season and fifth of his career.
Antoine Wilkinson led four Bears defenders in double-figures in tackles with a career-high 20 stops. He also had a pass break-up and one tackle for loss.
At the end of the first half, a desperation pass into the end zone as time expired put Illinois State up 21-14. The 38-yard pass from Brown to Brandon Venson into the end zone bounced off two Bears before Venson reeled it in to give the Redbirds a seven-point advantage for the third time in the game. It was Brown’s second TD pass of the half. He also connected with Cody White for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
The Bears bounced back from a rocky start that saw ISU convert a whiffed punt into seven points early in the game. Four plays after MSU punter Jordan Chiles fanned on a punt attempt from the MSU 26, Geno Blow carried it into the end zone from one yard out to give ISU a 7-0 lead.
MSU bounced back with a quick-strike score with 5:03 to play in the opening quarter on a 47-yard pass from Kirby to Jermaine Saffold, his second touchdown reception of the season.
The 7-7 tie lasted until Brown hit White at the 14:53 mark of the second to put ISU up 14-7. However, the Bears then rallied for a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that concluded with Kirby connecting with Cadarrius Dotson for a 28-yard touchdown catch-and-run to make it 14-14 before Browns’s last-second desperation TD pass to close out the half. Illinois State outgained the Bears 311 to 279 in the game.
Story courtesy of Missouri State athletics