Redbirds hand Leathernecks their first MVFC loss

Cody Rivera

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NORMAL, Ill. — For three quarters, it was an evenly matched bout, with first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference up for grabs.

“It was a very competitive football game,” said Bob Nielson, head coach of the Western Illinois football team.

For the final 15 minutes, however, momentum shifted in favor of the home team, and the Illinois State Redbirds pulled away from the Leathernecks for a 48-28 MVFC victory at
Hancock Stadium.

“I think it was more competitive than the final score indicated,” Nielson said. “Credit to Illinois State; they played well, in particular offensively.”

The Redbirds (6-1, 4-0 in MVFC play), the lone undefeated team remaining in the Missouri Valley, demonstrated their offensive firepower early.

Less than two minutes in, ISU quarterback Tre Roberson broke away on a quarterback keeper and charged 65 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, giving Illinois State a 7-0 lead.

Linebacker Brett Taylor didn’t discredit Roberson’s ability, but at the same time, he wasn’t happy with Western’s performance on defense.

“(Roberson) is a great athlete,” Taylor said. “But if we were just doing our assignments, making tackles, we would contain him easily.”

After the Leathernecks (4-3, 3-1) evened the score with a five-yard touchdown reception by Lance Lenoir — who became the all-time receptions leader in Western Illinois history with 154 — Roberson’s wheels struck again, this time for a nine-yard touchdown scamper to make it 14-7 Redbirds with 1:47 left in the first.

Containing the ISU offense was a struggle for Western, and Taylor, who led Western with nine total tackles, didn’t hesitate to admit it.

“They’re a good team, but we just didn’t come out and execute the way we were supposed to,” Taylor said. “We didn’t tackle well. The fault is on us.”

The Leathernecks refused to go down quietly, though. After trading scores throughout the remainder of the half, they pulled even again at the 2:36 mark in the second quarter, when Western quarterback Trenton Norvell lobbed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Stacey Smith, sending the game to halftime knotted 21-21.

Norvell said Illinois State did a good job of protecting against the run, which led to Western opening up the passing game more and more.

“They put some guys in the box,” said Norvell, who surpassed 50 career touchdown passes and threw for 313 yards. “We thought we could attack their defensive backs, which I feel like we did a pretty good job on. We had to throw vertical balls and make those guys make tackles.”

A 10-yard touchdown run by Devon Moore gave Western its first, and only, lead of the game in the third quarter. After that, it was Illinois State’s game the rest of the way.

Wide receiver Anthony Warrum hauled in a 65-yard touchdown heave from Roberson in the third quarter to tie the game 28-28. Less than two minutes later, running back Marshaun Coprich’s 19-yard score put the Redbirds in front for good.

Warrum gave credit to the ISU offensive line for helping to pick apart the Leatherneck defense.

“We had really good protection this week,” Warrum said. “You can tell our offensive line is getting so good. Every week, they’re just getting better and better.”

Coprich, who finished with 208 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, felt he had more big opportunities against Western’s defense in the second half.

“In the second half, they just tried to play their normal defense and I had the chance to break some big ones,” Coprich said.

With only one conference loss so far, the Leathernecks will try to bounce back at home next week when they host Youngstown State (3-4, 1-3).

“We’ve got to regroup,” Nielson said. “We’ll have another big game next week.”

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