Western Courier

Leathernecks sneak past Salukis

Titus Perez, Courier Staff

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CARBONDALE, Ill. — A brawl broke out in Carbondale this weekend between the Western Illinois University Leathernecks (5-4, 4-2 MVFC) and the Southern Illinois University Salukis (2-7, 1-5 MVFC). The game between two in-state rivals came down to a field goal to decide the winner, as the Leathernecks pulled out a 34-31 victory.

“We did an amazing job, keeping calm, staying posed no panic, just kept chipping away,” head coach Jared Elliott said. “We kept saying all we need is one score and we’re going to flip momentum here’ and then we stacked some good plays and our defense got a turnover.”

Western Illinois felt that this game would be tough regardless of Southern Illinois’ terrible record. Most of the team figured this was one of those games that would come down to the wire, especially since they hadn’t beat the Salukis at home since 2000.

The last time the Leathernecks were in Carbondale, SIU beat Western in a wild game that eliminated the Necks from playoff contention. Senior quarterback Sean McGuire said he remembered that game during his post-game interview. In this game, he threw 283 yards and two touchdowns to help the Purple and Gold seal their fifth win of the season and keep their playoff hopes alive.

The game started with three straight turnovers. SIU’s running back DJ Davis fumbled on the first drive of the game and then McGuire threw his first of two interceptions on a dropped deep post route by senior wide receiver Isaiah LeSure.

However, the Salukis came back and threw an interception of their own. According to Salukis’ head coach Nick Hill; his quarterback thought a Leatherneck defender jumped offside. Therefore, he threw a deep ball thinking it was a free play, and junior cornerback Darron Wheeler played the ball well leading to his first interception of the season. That interception would lead to a Leatherneck punt.

After Western punted the ball, the Salukis got it going and scored a touchdown on a 9-yard play, 80-yard drive which was boasted by a 32-yard pass and catch from quarterback Matt DeSomer to SIU’s lead wideout Raphael Leonard. Davis later ran it in from four yards out to give the Salukis a 7-0 lead. McGuire and the Western offense answered immediately as they drove 77-yards in just nine plays on the next possession. Junior running back Max Morris who had 91 yards in the game on 17 carries, busted out a 40-yard run to the Salukis 1-yard line. Senior running back Steve McShane would score on a run up the middle just one play later, tying the game at a touchdown apiece.

The Purple and Gold scored on back-to-back drives. After a Salukis three and out, the Leathernecks offense drove down the field and took the lead 14-7 on a 14-yard passing touchdown form McGuire to sophomore running back Clint Ratkovich. It was McGuire’s 20th touchdown pass of the season.

The Salukis answered on their next possession with a long, 6:19 drive. While the drive only ended in a field goal, it brought the score to 14-10. The length of the drive drained the Leatherneck momentum and turned it in SIU’s favor, as they took over the game from this point.

SIU closed the half by pinning the Necks deep in their own territory on a punt, Western Illinois couldn’t move the ball and had to punt the ball back to SIU, which put them in good field positioning. This led to a Salukis touchdown. DeSomer found Je’Quan Burton wide open for a 20-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left in the half. Western would run out the rest of the clock and go to half trailing 17-14.

The second half started with Western putting together an impressive drive that got all the way inside the Southern Illinois 1-yard line. However, on fourth and goal, with the Necks electing to go for it, Southern Illinois stuffed McGuire short of the end zone on a quarterback sneak. SIU would take over on downs and then drive 99-yards down the field for a touchdown of their own, bringing the score to 24-14.

McGuire threw his second interception of the day trying to set up a screen on the next possession, SIU defensive lineman jumped the attempt and took the ball away; the interception set up another Saluki touchdown. DeSomer hooked up with Leonard again, this time for a 30-yard touchdown to give them the 31-14 lead, with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Down 17 points entering the fourth quarter, the Leathernecks would answer with a 34-yard field goal from junior kicker Sam Crosa with 13:33 left in the game, bringing the score to 34-17. On the first play of their next possession, SIU fumbled and the Western defense recovered the ball. The offense then took advantage of the short field and scored on McShane’s second rushing touchdown of the day, this time from four yards out. McShane seemed to be surrounded in the backfield but made a spectacular hesitation move to get in the end zone and help Western close the gap by only a single touchdown, 31-24.

SIU tried to answer on their next drive, but ended up punting. They took a shot down the field and had a receiver open but Wheeler made a great play on the ball knocking it down, stopping a sure touchdown. On third down, junior defensive lineman Lacale London sacked DeSomer to force the punt.

Western would tie the game on the pursing possession, driving the ball 96 yards in nine plays. The drive was chaotic as McShane fumbled after catching a short pass, but SIU was flagged for a facemask on the play. Still mad at the facemask call, SIU was flagged again a couple plays later for unsportsmanlike conduct. Later in the drive, McGuire stretched the field and went deep for LeSure who made a circus catch over a defender, his catch put Western in field goal range.

They ran a couple plays before Crosa knocked down his second 34-yard field goal of the game, with just 13 seconds left in the game. SIU threw a long ball, which fell incomplete, but a pass interference call extended the game and gave SIU a legitimate shot at a Hail Mary. However, DeSomer was sacked to end the game which completed the Leatherneck comeback.

“I’m just so proud of our guys, how they fought and how they finished,” Elliott said. “They never lost faith, they just keep fighting, and they believed, and when you believe you give yourself a chance.”

Not only was this a huge win as far as the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings will look, but it was the first time that Western Illinois has defeated the Salukis in Carbondale since the year 2000. SIU had won the last eight matchups at Saluki Stadium. The overall series record is now 37-23-4, with Western leading.

After Saturday’s game, the Purple and Gold are currently ranked third in the MVFC standings and have a good shot of seeing playoff action once again this season

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Leathernecks sneak past Salukis