Missouri State rushed for 351 yards and boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers for the second time in three weeks to turn back No. 18 Western Illinois, 31-28, here Saturday on the Bears’ homecoming.

Junior Chris Douglas had a game-high 165 yards on 18 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, to lead the way for Terry Allen’s squad. Classmate Stephen Johnston also carried 18 times and finished with 130 ground yards for his third straight 100-yard effort.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference win for Missouri State (3-4, 2-2) was its fourth in a row at Plaster Field.

After holding a 21-14 halftime lead, the Bears forced Western Illinois (5-3, 3-2) to punt on its first three possessions of the second half. However, the Leathernecks retaliated early in the fourth quarter, driving 67 yards on nine plays to tie the game on an eight-yard keeper by quarterback Matt Barr with 12:21 left in the game.

That’s when the Bears’ took the lead for good. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Douglas broke a 71-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 28-21 and give MSU a lead it would never relinquish. The dash by Douglas was his fourth carry of the season of more than 50 yards.

Douglas has scored in six games this season and in eight of the team’s last nine overall.

A 35-yard field goal by freshman Austin Witmer on MSU’s next possession extended its advantage to 31-21 with 4:21 to left. It was Witmer’s first career field goal.

The Leathernecks kept their hopes alive with a 76-yard touchdown drive moments later. The 44-second scoring effort took just four plays and made it a three-point game after Lito Senatus sprung free for a 38-yard completion from Matt Barr.

Senatus finished with a game-high 180 receiving yards on seven receptions. Barr was 21-for-30 for 402 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was sacked four times.

After WIU kicked off deep with 3:32 to go, the Bears were able to eat away all but six seconds before punting to the Leathernecks’ 10 yard line. A last minute, desperation pass by Barr was complete to the MSU 45, but Antoine Wilkinson and Skylar Smith were there to make the tackle and preserve the win.

Wilkinson, a Buck Buchanan Watch List finalist, finished with a season-high 14 tackles and a sack to lead Missouri State’s defense which held WIU to just 94 rushing yards on 34 attempts. Jimmie Strong also had two interceptions for the Bears.

Kirby was 14-for-22 passing for 157 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked just once and eclipsed 8,000 career yards in total offense while surpassing the MSU career standard for pass attempts (1,051).

In the first half, Strong’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown helped the Bears build a 21-14 lead. Both teams had 251 yards in total offense in the first half.

The 18th-ranked Leathernecks jumped out the board first, getting a 64-yard touchdown drive with 2:28 to go in the opening quarter when Josh Gabelmann crossed the line from one yard out.

The Bears bounced back on the very next drive with an 80-yard drive that was capped by a 17-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kirby. The run was Kirby’s 32nd career touchdown and tied the game, 7-7.

On the very next play, Strong gave the Bears the lead on his second interception of the game and fourth of the season, returning it into the end zone with 11:25 left in the second quarter.

WIU bounced off the canvas with a four-minute-28-second drive to tie the game, 14-14. The 90-yard march consumed 10 plays and was capped on two-yard pass from Barr to Drew Helt.

Story courtesy of Missouri State Athletics