Western may need National Guard to protect Reardon

Tom Loftus sports editor

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It’s not that the Western Illinois offensive line doesn’t hit hard, or try its best to protect its quarterback. Center Jordan Valle, guards Jeff Lindsey and Andrew Robiskie, and tackles Sam Kachanuk and Kyle Caldwell would probably dive on the proverbial hand grenade to protect their quarterback, or at least dive on a 315-pound nose guard or two.

When the Leathernecks hit the turf at Hanson Field on Saturday to take on visiting South Dakota State, however, Western head coach Mark Hendrickson may need to consider calling some special guard protection for his signal caller – and the Illinois National Guard wouldn’t be out of the question.

Western saw another quarterback knocked out of commission in Saturday’s bruising 31-7 loss to host Illinois State, and as of Sunday evening, there was no word on whether he would be ready to go this weekend.

Josh Hudson, who played his way into a starting role this season and at one point was the nation’s top-ranked quarterback in terms of passing efficiency, found himself on the receiving end of vicious hit by Redbirds 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior linebacker Austin Davis with 23 seconds left in the first half.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hudson, whose size and speed have allowed him to gain 120 yards on the ground this season, had tucked the ball under his arm on a quarterback keeper on a second and 10, and had gained 8 yards when Davis delivered the kind of hit that makes a stadium full of fans gasp as one. Hudson landed hard out of bounds, and ended up being helped back to the far sidelines by Leathernecks training personnel.

“We knew that this was going to be a physical contest,” said Illinois State head coach Brock Spack. “I felt our players played physical, we ran the ball well … and we won the game.”

Hendrickson had no comment after Saturday’s game as to Hudson’s prognosis, but the Leathernecks head coach has to be concerned, and not only about the health of his junior signal caller.

Backup quarterback Wil Lunt fractured his fibula in last Saturday’s 56-14 loss to Youngstown State and was lost for the season.

If Hudson is unable to suit up on Saturday, the Leathernecks may have to get a little creative in coming up with a backup for Reardon. Hudson, Lunt and Reardon are the only quarterbacks listed on Western’s active roster.

Redbirds quarterback Matt Brown, meanwhile, did not play his best game on Saturday, completing just 9 of 21 passes for only 79 yards, 1 interception and 1 TD. However, Illinois State’s success on the ground – six players, including Brown, combined for 273 rushing yards and 3 TDs – more than made up for it.

Ashton Leggett, who was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game for disciplinary reasons, ended up with 13 rushes for 59 yards for the Redbirds. Clifton Gordon led Illinois State with 78 yards on 13 carries and 1 TD.

“Our offensive line’s been great all year,” Spack said. “They have played flawlessly. (Assistant coach) George (Barnett) has done a fabulous job with those kids.”

Spack said that his O line actually was the key to Saturday’s win. “We ran the ball very successfully,” Spack said. “(The offensive line) set the tempo. They’ve done a great job, they protect our quarterback – our quarterback doesn’t get hit very often – and from that standpoint, they’ve done a great job all year.”

Hendrickson, meanwhile, lamented the fact that his team’s offense needs to find a way to achieve success on a more regular basis. “We weren’t able to play as consistently as we need to play offensively,” the Leathernecks coach said. “We need to be able to execute, and establish drives, and score on more drives than we have, more often than we did today.”

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