Football loses to SIU Salukis on Senior Day


Becca Langys/ Photo Editor

Connor Sampson throws an off balance pass.

Zach Remelius, Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — The Fighting Leathernecks lost to Southern Illinois 45-21 on Saturday on Hanson Field in their final home game of the season. With the loss, the Leathernecks fall to 1-10 on the season and 1-6 within the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Salukis improved to 7-4 overall and 5-2 in conference play. The Leathernecks celebrated 13 seniors who were playing their final home game in the Purple and Gold.

The game started off dreadfully for the Leathernecks. On the opening kickoff, Justin Hall fumbled it and the Salukis took over on the Leatherneck 24 yard line. The defense stepped up and after a couple first downs, they stopped SIU four times from inside the two yard line, taking over on downs. After the Leathernecks had to punt, the Salukis took the ball right down the field and SIU running back D.J. Davis ran it in from 13 yards out and the score was 7-0. The Leathernecks were able to move the ball a bit on their next drive, added by a roughing the punter penalty. They had to punt again and the Salukis had the ball. The Leathernecks’ defense made a play and forced a fumble. The offense, though, couldn’t make it count as they fumbled it right back. On the following drive, the Salukis kicked a field goal, extending their lead to 10-0. After another Leatherneck punt, the Western Illinois defense made another stop. It was time for the Leatherneck special teams to make a play. They blocked the ensuing punt attempt and Leathernecks had the ball all of a sudden at the Saluki 10 yard line. The Southern Illinois defense matched the goal line stop the Leathernecks had earlier and stopped running back Max Norris on four straight rushes to keep it 10-0. After a couple of punts, the Leathernecks took over, needing a score. Connor Sampson flipped it out wide to George Wahee who got a big block that sprung him 59 yards for the touchdown. That was the final score of the half as it was 10-7 when both teams headed to the locker room.

The third quarter was where the game fell apart for the Leathernecks. The Salukis got the ball first and, in a sign of things to come, were able to march down the field. They were held to a field goal attempt to which SIU kicker Nico Gualdoni missed. After another Leatherneck punt, the Salukis got the ball back and after a couple big plays, Avante Cox was able to run it in from nine yards out and push the lead to 17-7.

The Saluki defense made another game changing play on the next possession. After the Leathernecks were able to get to first and goal at the two yard line, they sacked Sampson to push Western back to the 12 yard line on second down. On third down, they got another sack but this time they were able to force another fumble and take over on the 22 yard line. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass but after a review, they changed the call. After a 53-yard rush by Davis, Javon Williams Jr. punched it in from one yard out to again extend the lead to 24-7. On the following possession, once again, pressure was put on Sampson and the Salukis forced another fumble. Williams Jr. scored his second touchdown on an eight-yard run and 31-7 is where the game sat entering the 4th. On their first drive of the fourth, the Leathernecks attempted to spark a comeback. Sampson found Dennis Houston from 11 yards out for his second passing touchdown of the day. Houston made an incredible catch, pinning the ball to the back of the Saluki defenders helmet and bringing it down with possession. Interestingly, the Leathernecks kicked the extra point instead of going for two and it was 31-14. Williams Jr. and Davis on the ensuing drive did all the work as Davis once again found the endzone to make it 38-14. Once again, Sampson led the Leathernecks down the field, completing several passes including an 18-yard play to Wahee on a 4th and 4. On 3rd and goal from the 11, Sampson threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this time to Clint Ratkovich who found himself wide open. After a failed onside kick by the Leathernecks, Williams Jr. scored once again to make it 45-21 Salukis which is where the scoring stopped.

Sampson finished the day completing 22 of 36 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw a pick and fumbled it three times while being sacked five times. On the other side, Kare Lyles finished 12 for 18 for 144 yards and a pick. Williams Jr. threw two passes and completed them both for 48 yards. The Salukis found a lot of success on the ground. D.J. Davis took the ball 31 times and ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Williams Jr. ran the ball 19 times for 149 yards and three touchdowns. On the Western side, Norris carried it 16 times for 75 yards to lead the Leathernecks. Landon Lenoir, the younger brother of Leatherneck legend Lance Lenoir, had a big day catching five balls for 114 yards. Wahee led Leatherneck receivers in yards with 77 on two catches, while Dennis Houston led the team in catches with seven, getting 52 yards on those catches.

The Leathernecks finish their season next week in Cedar Falls as they take on Northern Iowa. Southern Illinois will finish their season against North Dakota State and then will await to see if they are playoff bound.