Football falls short to conference foe

Haley Richards, Sports Editor

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NORMAL, Ill. — The Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks now move to 2-3 on the season and 1-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference after coming up short against the Illinois State University Redbirds.

The final score of the game was 33-16, ISU now moves on to a season record of 4-1 and a conference record of 1-1.

The Purple and Gold were first on the board after senior quarterback Sean McGuire threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Tony Tate.

However, kicker Sam Crosa’s kick was blocked and ran down to the end zone. The Leathernecks led by a score of 6-2 for the remainder of the first quarter.

Illinois State was first on the board in the second quarter driving 46 yards in seven plays. Running back James Robinson ran the ball in for a touchdown with 10:15 left in the second quarter putting them in the lead, 9-6. Kicker JT Bolhken of the Redbirds then nailed a 22-yard field goal to strengthen the Redbirds’ lead by a score of 12-6 with 3:59 remaining in the first half.

With about a minute left, McGuire threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Steve McShane to give a 13-12 lead going into halftime.

The action started with less than 10 minutes left in the third quarter when McGuire threw a 71-yard pass to Tate. Tate was brought down at the 8-yard line, but the Redbirds’ defense held Western to a field goal. The score was then 16-12. Those were the only points scored for the reminder of the third quarter.

“Field position was no question one of the factors of this game, but that’s a credit to Illinois State,” head coach Jared Elliott said. “We had some opportunities in the third quarter but didn’t take advantage of them. Offensively, we have to be more consistent. We have got to do a better job on first and second downs; we’re giving up way too many third and longs, and that makes it hard to convert and stay on the field. Illinois State had some adjustments for us and were able to apply some pressure without having to pressure. We’ll get back and figure out some of the ways and things that we need to do to help our young offensive line out and protect Sean and give us a chance.”

Unfortunately, the fourth quarter brought a different story and Illinois State captured the win with 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Illinois State has now won eight of the last nine games against Western Illinois.

Despite the conference loss, this was a record-breaking game for McGuire. He made history at Hancock Stadium by becoming the Leathernecks’ all-time leader in both passing yards and touchdowns. He surpassed the previous record holder, Paul Singer, who played between 1985 and 1988.

“This guy continues to get better and better,” Elliot said. “He’s a very unique and special young man, and I’ve never coached anyone like him.”

Senior punter Adam Fellner also put some numbers up. He recorded 407 punting yards, which was the most of his career. He is also ranked second in the conference with a total of 609 total yards on the season. Ahead of him is Bohlken (ISU) with 766 yards.

Senior linebacker Quentin Moon is the Missouri Valley Football Conference leader in forced fumbles and holds a top spot in the rankings with 21 total tackles on the season.

“We’ve got some special kids, and I cannot be more proud of them,” Elliott said. “Even after tough loses where it hurts the most. The effort and how these guys compete and fight; we’ll heal from the hurt, 24-hour rule, and we’ll move on and get better.”

The Purple and Gold will continue their conference play as they face North Dakota State University on Saturday. The Bison were the 2017 National Champions, they are currently 5-0 on the season (2-0 MVFC).

Their most recent win is over the Missouri Valley Football Conference foe, the University of Northern Iowa, who they defeated 56-31.

The Purple and Gold will need all the support they can get so come out for the game on Hanson Field or tune into ESPN+ to watch. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

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