Southern Illinois raced out to a 14-point lead in the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener with Missouri State, then rode a shutdown performance from its defense to close out a 14-6 win over the Bears at Plaster Field. The Saluki defense forced three key turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown, to overcome an 0-for-13 effort on third-down conversions by its offense.
Despite dominating nearly every offensive statistical category and generating several scoring opportunities, the Bears never could reach the end zone against the Saluki defense. SIU (2-2, 1-0 MVFC) held the Bears 120 yards of offense in a scoreless second half to preserve the win, overshadowing a standout effort from the Missouri State defense, which limited the Salukis to 198 yards on the day.
Missouri State Freshman running back Ryan Heaston led the MSU offense with a career-high 126 yards on 22 rushes, while junior receiver Dorian Buford reeled in nine catches to match his personal best for receptions. Additionally, Matt Thayer hauled eight receptions for 72 yards, both representing career-best totals for the senior tight end.
Missouri State outgained the Salukis by a 362 to 198 in total offense and recorded 20 first downs to just 11 for SIU, but a series of missed opportunities and 100 penalty yards, combined with a clutch defensive effort by SIU proved to be more than the Bears could overcome.
SIU broke into the scoring column first, getting a key defensive play to take an early 7-0 lead. Emmanuel Souarin stepped in front of an Ashton Glaser pass and returned the ball 44 yards for a Saluki touchdown just four minutes and 59 seconds into the game. After stopping the Bears’ offense on the ensuing possession, the Salukis put together a 63-yard scoring drive to take a commanding 14-point lead. Kalokoh sparked the drive with a 36-yard run to set up SIU in the red zone, before taking a swing pass from Faulkner and trotting into the end zone with 5:54 remaining in the period.
The Bears answered with an 11-play drive to put their first points of the afternoon on the scoreboard. Heaston ripped off a 14-yard rush, and Glaser connected on all four of his pass attempts to help MSU drive 68 yards to the SIU seven before the drive stalled. Witmer then nailed a 25-yard field-goal attempt to draw the Bears to within 14-3.
Missouri State moved the ball deep into Saluki territory again on its next possession, thanks to a pair of long Glaser completions. The junior transfer connected with Eric Christophel on a key 30-yard gain on third down from the MSU 33, then hit Matt Thayer for a 14-yard completion to push the chains to the Saluki 23. SIU forced a field goal attempt, but a running into the kicker penalty gave the Bears new life at the SIU 12. Three straight Heaston rushes moved the ball to the five, but the Salukis came up big on fourth down, stopping Heaston just short of the first down marker to halt the drive.
After forcing another Southern Illinois punt deep in their own territory, the Bears regained the ball in prime position to further cut into the visitors’ lead. A 26-yard punt gave MSU the ball at the SIU 30, but the Bears moved the ball just four yards before Witmer’s second field goal of the game–this one from 43 yards out–made it a 14-6 contest.
The defenses took control of the game during a scoreless third period that saw both offenses struggle to move the football, combining for just 91 yards of total offenses and only four first downs in the quarter.
SIU missed out on a prime opportunity to extend its lead early in the fourth quarter after a one-yard Missouri State punt set up the Salukis with a first down at the Bears’ 23-yard line. The MSU defense stiffened, forcing a 25-yard field goal try that bounced off the left upright to keep it an eight-point game.
The Bears engineered a threat of their own on the ensuing drive, as Heaston’s 25-yard run gave MSU a first down at the SIU 37. On the very next play, however, Kierra Harris was ruled to have fumbled and Terrell Wilson scooped up the loose ball for the Salukis to extinguish the drive.
MSU’s defense came up with another stop late to give the Bears one final shot at a potential game-tying drive. However, Glaser was picked off for the second time on the very first play from scrimmage, and SIU was able to run out the clock to improve to 2-2 overall on the year.
Mika’il McCall led the SIU rushing attack with 80 yards, 73 of which came in the second half. Glaser finished the day 20-of-35 for 180 yards, while Harris completed 6-of-7 passes for 38 yards in a relief role.
Next, the Bears (0-4, 0-1 MVFC) hit the road for their next two games, taking on South Dakota State in Brookings next Saturday (Sept. 29) at 6 p.m., before heading to Terre Haute, Ind., for a 2 p.m. game with Indiana State on Oct. 6.
Story courtesy of Missouri State Athletics.