Rookie rushes for 170, but Western falls again


Tom Loftus Sports editor

In a game loaded with positive individual performances for charged-up Western Illinois, it was a few momentum-changing mistakes that drained the Leathernecks’ batteries on Saturday.

The Leathernecks – clearly determined to put on good show in front of the Parents Day and Military Appreciation Day crowd at Hanson Field – did everything but win in their 27-7 loss to Missouri Valley Football Conference foe South Dakota State.

Western (2-8, 1-6), which has now dropped five straight games, outgained the Coyotes (5-6, 4-4) on offense, 289 yards to 288.

Leatherneck freshman running back Nikko Watson electrified the partisan fans with a 55-yard second-quarter run down the far sideline, finishing with 170 yards rushing on the day and a 5.9 yards-per-carry average.

Ryan Davis broke up 5 passes, a career high, and tied a personal best with 8 tackles.

And Kieron James picked off a Coyotes pass, blocked a potential South Dakota State field goal, and set a new career mark with 9 tackles.

With all of that going on, why weren’t the Leathernecks able to turn the heat on the Coyotes when it counted?

“This season, I sound like a broken record, but this season, I guess I have been,” said Western head coach Mark Hendrickson. “We give everything we have every Saturday. (Our players) play very hard, and very physical, but we make some key mistakes and that sets us back. It’s happened in several games and it’s frustrating.”

The Leathernecks lost 1 fumble, turned over the ball twice on interceptions, and committed 7 penalties for 76 yards.

Western junior quarterback Josh Hudson’s struggles in the second half of the season continued on Saturday. Hudson completed just 9 of 18 passes for only 57 yards and 2 interceptions.

“We’ve been through this scenario before,” Hendrickson said. “We shoot ourselves in the foot. (Turnovers and penalties) come at a bad time. Josh had trouble throwing the ball today.”

Despite a final score that reflected a 20-point deficit, Western’s defense actually played one of its most effective games of the season.

Leathernecks senior linebacker Kevin Palermo had his usual strong game, contributing 11 tackles. Junior linebacker Theon Dixon added 8 tackles, including a team-best 4-1/2 tackles for loss. Junior defensive back Maurice Hood chipped in with 6 tackles.

“I feel like our defense played really well today,” said senior linebacker Ryan Carleton, who had a career-high 11 tackles in his first career start. “Everyone did their jobs. No big mistakes. They just outplayed us.”

“I felt like we should feed off each other – defense feed off the offense, offense feed off the defense,” James said. “We couldn’t get that going on.”

South Dakota State opened the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Sumner (19 of 39, 208 yards) to Zach Zenner with 7:25 left in the first quarter. The Coyotes made it 14-0 on an 8-yard keeper by Sumner with just 37 seconds left in the first half.

A 27-yard field goal by Justin Syrovatka put South Dakota State up 17-0 early in the third quarter. With 8:12 left in the quarter, Winston Wright scooped up a fumble and scampered 68 yards to pay dirt to extend the Coyotes lead to 24-0.

Another Syrovatka field goal, this one from 28 yards, added 3 points to the Coyotes total with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.

A 3-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Cody Reardon to senior wide receiver Terriun Crump with 36 seconds remaining in the game spoiled the Coyotes shutout bid.

Crump, who finished with 5 catches for 28 yards, surpassed 2,000 career receiving yards during the game, and now has 2,005. The touchdown catch was the 11th of his Leathernecks’ career, tying him for 10th place all-time at Western.