Football loses conference opener against Missouri State in 3OT

Bradley Piros , Sports Editor


MACOMB, Ill. – The Western Illinois University football team (0-5) opened up their conference schedule at home against the Missouri State University Bears (1-3). The Leathernecks beat MSU last season 31-14 on the road, but the Bears were out for revenge.

Both of these teams went into the game winless, so both sides were starving for that first victory. It was MSU who crashed Western’s party in dramatic fashion in triple-overtime with a 37-31 win. Regardless of the outcome, head coach Jared Elliot was still proud of his men.

“The effort, physicality I was really, really proud of, but we didn’t make enough plays at the end of it,” Elliot said in an interview with WIU Athletic Communications. “At the end of the day, we had plenty of chances to win, even in regulation. We’ve got to get back to work, and that’s what we’ll do. It hurts. Our guys battled tonight, and there was a relentless spirit. For that, I’m really proud.”

The most crushing part of the loss was that Western led by 14 early on in the game and watched that lead slowly fade away. The Leathernecks got on the board halfway through the first quarter when junior DE Kyle Williams recovered a fumble at MSU’s 10-yard line and ran it back home for a touchdown, the first of his collegiate career.

The first quarter ended 7-0 in favor of the Leathernecks, but they weren’t done tacking onto their lead. In an astonishing 42-second play, Western marched down the field to score another touchdown. Senior QB Kevin Johnson threw a perfect 41-yard pass towards the end zone and into the hands of junior WR Tony Tate to make it 14-0.

MSU got the last laugh before half time when senior QB Peyton Huslig threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior WR Lorenzo Thomas to cut Western’s lead in half heading into the locker-room.

No scoring occurred in the third quarter, which made for a jam-packed and dramatic final period of play. This was when every Western Illinois fan in the stadium and watching at home was on the edge of their seat.

MSU scored 50 seconds into the fourth quarter after a 13-play, 93-yard drive. Huslig threw his second touchdown pass 18 yards to senior WR Kendall Stewart to tie the game at 14-14. It seemed as if the tides had turned for MSU and Western was on their heels.

Halfway through the fourth quarter it was Huslig again. This time he threw it 41-yards to senior WR Tyler Currie to wrap up a rather quick 4-play, 67-yard drive and give the Bears their first lead of the night 21-14.

So, it was up to Western to score and force over time or the game was over. With their backs against the wall, the Leathernecks tied the game up at 21-21 with 1:25 left on the clock.

Redshirt-junior QB Connor Sampson, who was seen with an apparent injury as he walked around on crutches after the game against Tennessee Tech, entered the game after MSU’s go-ahead score. After a 13-play, 74-yard drive the Leathernecks found themselves on the 1 yard line. Senior RB Max Norris ran it in to tie the game and give the Leathernecks life.

Norris didn’t have a lot of time on the field, but he did have enough to rack up his 1,000th career-rushing yard. It’s a spectacular feat and Elliot was happy to see him do it.

“[Max] laid it all out there today. He ran the ball with a different mindset and mentality, and just an edge in physicality,” Elliot said with Athletics. “That’s what makes Max great. Our offense fed off of that today. It’s important of who we are, and having Max back helped us in more ways than one.”

His touchdown couldn’t have been better timed. It left only 1:25 on the clock for the Bears to try and come up with something but they couldn’t. After 60 hard fought minutes, the game headed to overtime.

OT rules state that each team starts with the ball on the opposing team’s 25 yard line. If the teams are still tied after both drives, the game continues until a winner is determined. When you enter 3OT, you must go for two if you score a touchdown.

With that being said, MSU started OT with the ball. Huslig connected with Thomas again with a 25-yard pass to take back the lead. Western had to score on the next drive or it was over. Norris scored again, this time rushing for two yards to make it 28-27. All the pressure was on senior kicker Nathan Erickson; make it and the came goes on, miss and his side takes a loss. He drilled it to tie the game and force 2OT.

Ovetime rules also state that the team who scored last, starts the next OT with the ball, which meant that the Leathernecks had the ball in hand. After a sack, the Leathernecks had no choice but to kick a field goal. The pressure was once again on Erickson, but he made the 45-yarder look easy. The Leathernecks led 31-28.

This time, MSU had to score or it would be over. If they scored a field goal the game would go on, but if they scored a touchdown the game would be over. Western’s defense held the Bears to a field goal as sophomore kicker Parker Lacina made the 20-yard attempt and forced 3OT.

MSU started 3OT with the ball and they made the most of it. Senior WR Kendall Stewart ran the ball 22-yards into the end zone to make it 37-31. The Bears failed the two-point conversion.

Western had to score to keep the game going, but all good things must come to an end, including this Homecoming thriller. The Leathernecks went four-and-out and the Bears picked up their first win of the season 37-31.

The Leathernecks pick up their fifth straight loss of the year and drop to 0-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Western will continue conference play next Saturday when they travel to Indiana State University. Kick off is set for noon.