Hundreth game between in-state foes

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Hundreth game between in-state foes

Jaelon Acklin waits for the cadence in a loss to South Dakota State University.

Jaelon Acklin waits for the cadence in a loss to South Dakota State University.

Nicholas Ebelhack / editor in chief

Jaelon Acklin waits for the cadence in a loss to South Dakota State University.

Nicholas Ebelhack / editor in chief

Nicholas Ebelhack / editor in chief

Jaelon Acklin waits for the cadence in a loss to South Dakota State University.

Devon Greene, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Western Illinois University football team is heading to Normal, on Saturday for their 100th matchup against the Illinois State University Redbirds.

This hallmark game will come 103 years after the first encounter between the two teams. The first matchup occurred on Nov. 25, 1904 and has been a back and forth series ever since.  The Leathernecks are currently leading the all-time series between the two teams with a 50-46-3 record, however, they have lost the last 7 games against the Redbirds.

Junior running back Steve McShane had one of his biggest games last weekend and the Leatherneck offense will need him to put together another game like that in order to win against the conference rival. However, Illinois State is the fifth ranked team in the FCS against the run, so McShane and the Leatherneck offensive line have their work cut out for them on Saturday.

The Redbirds dominated their last two games against ranked opponents. They’ve done this in large part due to their offense, scoring 37 and 35 points during the short winning streak. Sophomore running back James Robinson has put up at least 100 yards in his last two games, but he is not the only concern out of the backfield for the Leathernecks. Redshirt freshman running back Markel Smith has also had big games with over 90 yards in his last two performances. The Redbird’s run game will prove to be a huge deciding factor in this game. Western currently ranks 35 in the FCS against the run this season and have been plagued by running teams all year.

The Redbird defense also looks like they’ve hit their stride. They held the University of South Dakota Coyotes’ lethal offense to 21 points in route to the 37-21 victory to hand the Coyotes their first loss of the season. The week after, Illinois State’s defense shut out the Youngstown State University Penguins on their home field in a 35-0 thrashing.

Western will need junior quarterback Sean McGuire and senior receiver Jaelon Acklin to find the same connectionsthey found early in the season. McGuire and Acklin fueled the Leathernecks to a 5-1 start before the recent skid. Acklin has not found the end zone in the past two games and was limited to a season-low 56 yards receiving last week against the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits.

The Leathernecks and Redbirds are expecting a playoff atmosphere in Normal. Head Coach Charlie Fisher is looking for his team to come out of this rough patch they’ve had the past two weeks.

“We’re good, most of the kids are pretty resilient but you have to be resilient more than anything this time of year,” Fisher said. “Mentally, the highs and the lows, it’s a long season and these are young kids and it’s a battle physically, it’s a battle mentally too, a lot of people forget about that, but you have to stay in the present and keep going.”

This matchup will prove to be huge in determining if the Leathernecks will make the playoffs this year and can separate themselves from the history of last year’s collapse.

Twitter:@devondeadlysins

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