Football’s comeback falls short in seventh straight loss

Zach Remelius, Courier Staff

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The Fighting Leathernecks fell to 0-7 on the season after their loss to Illinois State 28-14 on Hanson Field. The Leathernecks had opportunities to pull off the upset of the 11th ranked team in the country but squandered several of them. Illinois State was able to make enough plays to pull of the win, but the Leathernecks can take away some positives that may lead to a win within the next five games.

The game started out brutally for the Leathernecks. On the second play of the game after receiving the opening kickoff, the Redbirds recovered a Leatherneck fumble and two plays later, senior RB James Robinson found a hole and ran it in from 16 yards out. The rest of the first quarter was largely uneventful except for the Leathernecks fumbling a punt when it hit the ground and bounced off a Western Illinois player. The Leathernecks were able to move the ball a bit, but the first drive of the second quarter ended with a missed field goal.

Things started to turn when senior DB Eric Carrera picked off junior QB Brady Davis’ pass and the offense set up shop at the 25 yard line. An opportunity was squandered when on second and goal from the two yard line, the Leathernecks tried running a trick play. The ball ended up in junior WR Tony Tate’s hands as he was rolling right looking to throw, his pass was intercepted and the Redbirds held the 7-0 lead. After a couple punts back and forth, Illinois State marched down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard drive and went up 14-0. It stayed that way at half.

Midway through the third quarter, the Leathernecks got the ball on the 20 yard line, needing a score to stay in the game. They responded with a 14-play drive that took just under six minutes and ended with a redshirt-freshman RB DeShon Gavin finding the endzone for a two year touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7. On this drive, the Leathernecks stayed on schedule and got a few yards on both first and second down to avoid facing a third and long against a fierce Redbird pass rush. The drive saw only two third downs, a third and two and a third and five.

The Redbirds got the ball back toward the end of the third quarter and started on a drive that crept into the fourth. After picking up a key third and six, Robinson found the endzone for the third time on the afternoon, extending the Illinois State lead to 21-7. On the following drive on third and eight, junior QB Connor Sampson’s pass was intercepted and returned to the Western Illinois 16 yard line. The defense did their best to hold them, including back-to back stops on the goaline, but junior RB Jeff Procter got in on the third try and it was 28-7. To the Leathernecks’ credit, they didn’t give up as Sampson led an aerial attack down the field for a 15-play touchdown drive that ended with Sampson finding graduate WR George Wahee for a four-yard touchdown. After getting the ball back with about five minutes left, the Leathernecks started to move the ball through the air again and ended up on the Redbird 36 yard line. The drive stalled when Sampson was sacked on third down by sophomore LB Brandon Simon and couldn’t convert the fourth down play, ending the game after Illinois State picked up a first down and bled the clock to end it in their favor, 28-14.

The Leathernecks actually outgained their counterparts by almost 100 yards and were able to convert 11-20 on third down. What led to their demise in this game were the turnovers. Three fumbles, two on punt return, two interceptions, one on the goaline and then the turnover on downs at the very end of the game. It is tough to beat a highly ranked team when giving away the ball that much. Sampson was productive going 34-50 for 270 yards and a touchdown. The Leatherneck offense changed things up a bit and played with some very quick tempo, going with a no huddle look for a lot of this game. The quick throws seemed to get Sampson in a rhythm on what his best game of the season. The running game was effective enough for the Leathernecks, averaging three yards a carry led by junior RB Clint Ratkovich carrying the ball five times for 45 yards. Eric Carrera led the way on defense with 11 tackles and his interception. The Leathernecks hit the road for their next game to face Youngstown State before returning to Hanson Field to play South Dakota on Nov. 2.

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