Necks fall short in top-10 match up

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Necks fall short in top-10 match up

Receiver Jaelon Acklin fights for his second touchdown in a record-breaking performance Saturday against the Coyotes.

Receiver Jaelon Acklin fights for his second touchdown in a record-breaking performance Saturday against the Coyotes.

Nicholas Ebelhack/Editor -in-chief

Receiver Jaelon Acklin fights for his second touchdown in a record-breaking performance Saturday against the Coyotes.

Nicholas Ebelhack/Editor -in-chief

Nicholas Ebelhack/Editor -in-chief

Receiver Jaelon Acklin fights for his second touchdown in a record-breaking performance Saturday against the Coyotes.

Devon Greene, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Western Illinois University Leathernecks lost their homecoming game 38-33 against the tenth ranked team in the FCS, the University of South Dakota Cougars on Saturday afternoon. The loss, however, did not come without plenty of drama. Three Leathernecks put on historic performances in the showdown on Hanson Field.

 The Cougars opened the game with a long 9- play 75-yard scoring drive that showed how aggressive they were from the start. South Dakota went for it on the first two fourth downs of the game. The first fourth down they looked to convert was a fourth and two on Western’s 28 yard line. A 12-yard completion led to a first down and an early touchdown to put them up 7-0 in the first quarter.

 After three straight games of scoring at least 38 points per game, Western’s offense had finally encountered some formidable opposition in the Cougar’s defense. The Leathernecks had problems running the ball all night and only finished with 33 yards rushing. They had to punt on their first three drives of the game and had trouble getting anything past the stifling South Dakota defensive unit.

 The Cougars closed out the first quarter with a long drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal from senior kicker, Ryan Weese to push the score to 10-0.

 Western’s first scoring drive came to open their first drive of the second quarter. Senior wide-receiver Jaelon Acklin began to show a glimpse of what type of game he was going to have with a big drive to get Western back in the game. Acklin caught a 31-yard pass to open the drive and later pulled in a 28-yard pass on a crucial third down for the Leathernecks. This catch placed the Leathernecks on the Cougars’ 17-yard line, placing them in the red zone for the first time in the game.

 They were able to capitalize one play later as junior quarterback, Sean McGuire hit senior, tight end Tony Harper on a 17 yard pass up the middle. Sophomore kicker Sam Crosa missed the point and left the score at 10-6.

The Cougars dominated the rest of the first half scoring two more touchdowns. The final touchdown came on a 10-play 74-yard drive to close the half. South Dakota senior quarterback Chris Streveler proved to be a problem for Western all afternoon. A 27-yard scramble from Streveler put the Cougars in scoring position with just under two minutes remaining in the half. South Dakota finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass from Streveler to senior tight-end Josh Hale.

Western head coach Charlie Fisher spoke to his team at halftime to find answers for their lackluster performance to start the game.

“I think more than anything we started to play like we can play.” Fisher said. “We got some energy going, we started making plays and gained some confidence. I challenged our guys at halftime, I said ‘This isn’t us. We need to answer the bell and represent this football organization the way we can play.’ and we did that. We gave ourselves a chance at the end, as a head coach that’s all you can ask.”

The Leathernecks didn’t show any signs of life to open the second half and started with a quick three and out. South Dakota kept the momentum rolling with a scoring drive and further extended the lead to 31-6. The thrashing continued with their next drive as senior offensive lineman Stetson Dagel in the end zone for a touchdown, recovered a fumble and pushed their advantage to 38-6 with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter.

Western’s following drive was the beginning of the comeback that revitalized the fans at Hansen field. A two-play drive led to a touchdown on a deep pass down the middle from McGuire to Acklin for a 62-yard touchdown. The momentum from this play alone sparked the entire team to get back into the game. Two punts later, one from each team, running back and punt returner Steve McShane posted the seventh longest return in Western’s history book at 77 yards. He was tackled at the Cougars’ 7-yard line but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from sophomore wide receiver Brandon Gaston pushed them back to the 23-yard line. McShane had another big play for the Leathernecks as he caught a lob pass between two defenders and put Western on the 1-yard line. McShane finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Western showed signs of life as the lead was shrunk to 18 before start of the final quarter.

The fourth quarter was all  Acklin. He already broke his career receiving record with 109 yards receiving through three quarters but he wasn’t anywhere near finished with one quarter remaining and his team down 18 in their homecoming game. 

The Cougars opening drive of the fourth quarter was stifled by Western’s defense and a major player was senior linebacker Brett Taylor. Taylor put together a historic game and tied Rodney Harrison’s 28 tackles against Western Kentucky. Harrison’s record stood for 24 years before Taylor put together one of the best games of his career against South Dakota.

Western’s next drive saw Acklin catch 8 passes for 96 yards that ended with him catching an 11-yard touchdown and further put the pressure on South Dakota, shrinking the lead to 38-29. The Leatherneck defense came up big holding the Cougars out of scoring position and giving the offense enough time to score again with 4:28 left in the game.

A great punt from redshirt freshman punter, Brady Schutt pinned Western at their own three-yard line. Acklin kept dominating the secondary and opened the drive with a 34-yard catch over the middle. Four plays later, Acklin caught another big pass over the middle, he weaved through four Cougar defenders and broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown.

Fisher watched in awe of his senior wide-reciever’s record-breaking performance.

“He’s certainly capable of it by the way he’s performed since January.” Fisher said. “I’ve done this a long time, 37 years, and I’ve got a lot of games, and a lot of really good quarterbacks and receivers. The performance that Acklin had today was nothing short of unbelievable. His effort and determination, I tip my hat and I told him that in the locker room,” said Fisher. “I haven’t seen a performance like that since going back to what (former North Carolina State and NFL standout) Torry Holt did a number of times.”

All Western’s hopes were placed on their defense, and they lived up to expectations. The Leatherneck defense held up on a four play drive and came up with what was the biggest stop of the game on a fourth and one with 41 seconds remaining before the next play.

On the first play of the Leatherneck’s final drive, McGuire targeted junior receiver, Isaiah LeSure on the sideline. The pass flew past LeSure and was intercepted by junior defensive back Danny Rambo. The interception iced the game for the Cougars and gave them a 38-33 victory over Western.

The Leathernecks are now 3-1 this season and are heading to Cedar Falls, Iowa next week for a matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers.


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