Football fights for another conference win

Khalen+Saunders+running+to+the+play+in+last+weekends+homecoming+game+on+Hanson+Field.

Becca Langys/ Copy Editor

Khalen Saunders running to the play in last weekend’s homecoming game on Hanson Field.

Brendan Reidy , Courier Staff

NORMAL, Ill. — The Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks (2-2, 1-0) will travel to Bloomington-Normal to take on the Illinois State University Redbirds (3-1, 0-1) this Saturday.

It has been two completely opposite stories for these two programs, as the Leathernecks started the year off with two losses, but rebounded the previous two weeks after reeling off two consecutive victories. The Redbirds started the year off 3-0 and beat Colorado State, an FBS opponent, in the process. However, they lost their first conference matchup against Missouri State the previous weekend.

Western Illinois will look to ride their two-game win streak into this weekend’s contest. Since week three, the offense has been scorching. Last week, against Youngstown State, the Leathernecks scored five offense touchdowns. Senior quarterback Sean McGuire was exceptional.

He is now the school record holder for most touchdown passes by a Leatherneck. Not only has McGuire been outstanding during his career at Western, but the last game he played was an ideal game for a quarterback. He spread the ball around to every receiver, and even threw a touchdown pass to senior defensive lineman Khalen Saunders.

Western will need to carry their momentum they have gained from the previous two games, to get the victory against the Redbirds this weekend. However, the Redbirds will be a tough test.

Illinois State will be looking to come and get their first conference win, and will come out hungry against Western Illinois. Leading the charge for the Redbirds is quarterback transfer Brady Davis.

He is a transfer from Memphis who has led Illinois State to three early wins, but it has not just been Davis. The defense has been superb. Their secondary will present a daunting task for reigning Missouri Valley Conference Player of the week.

Their secondary has been forcing turnovers like never before. The Redbird defense has gotten two interceptions in each of the last two weeks bringing their season total up to a whopping eight picks. This contest will feature some of the best linebackers in not only the Missouri Valley Conference, but also the entire FCS. The Redbirds have Zackary Mathews, who ranks fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference in tackles per game. For the Leathernecks, they have a stellar line-backing core of senior Quentin Moon and Zach Glisan. Moon leads the FCS in tackles with 7.3 a contest, and also is tied for eighth in the nation with two forced fumbles on the season.

The game plan for the Leathernecks has to be to get the running game established. Whether it is with senior running back Steve McShane, sophomore wide receiver Tony Tate or junior running back Clint Ratkovich, Western needs to exploit the Redbirds’ weaknesses.

Last year the Leathernecks spoiled Illinois State’s homecoming, and helped clinched a playoff berth for Western. The Leathernecks will look to repeat that same formula on the road this year, and go 2-0 in conference play. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Hancock Stadium, and will be aired on NBC Sports Chicago and ESPN+.

twitter: brendanreidyII