A fiery halftime speech from SIU coach Dale Lennon propelled the Saluki football team to a 35-0 win over Western Illinois in the season finale Saturday at Saluki Stadium.
SIU (6-5, 5-3) was unimpressive against the overmatched Leatherneck team (3-8, 1-7) in the first half, and the Salukis led 14-0 despite 120 yards of total offense.
“We knew we were a better team than what we showed in the first half,” senior running back Steve Strother said. “Coach Lennon came into the locker room and he let us have it. He told us that we’ve got to be better than that, and I think everybody stepped up because of that and we came out and showed who we were in the second half.”
Strother bolstered the Saluki ground game, finishing his final collegiate contest with 18 carries for 90 yards.
Lennon said his halftime message to the team was intended to end the year on a positive note.
“I got after them,” he said. “The thing I wanted to see was passion. I wanted us to come out and really make a statement with this final game to set the direction of the program, to feel good about what we accomplished on the season. They came out in the second half and performed well.”
SIU scored on its first possession after intermission on a 1-yard run by sophomore running back Mika’il McCall and then tacked on another score six minutes later on a 19-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kory Faulkner to senior receiver David Lewis.
Faulkner finished the day with 132 passing yards and two touchdowns, one on a naked bootleg on the goal line to give SIU a 7-0 lead to start the second quarter.
While the offense started slowly, the Salukis were picked up early by a defensive touchdown, the team’s ninth non-offensive score of the season. With 7:40 to go in the second quarter, senior linebacker Kevin Reed tipped a pass thrown by WIU quarterback Hayden Northern on 3rd-and-11 and caught it out of the air before taking the ball 18 yards for a touchdown.
“Scoring on defense is something that we’ve been doing a lot, and it’s just a key focus,” senior defensive end Ken Boatright said. “We try to create turnovers and make big plays to help out the offense.”
Boatright had five tackles and a sack in the contest. The Saluki defense managed five sacks and limited the Western offense to 142 yards of total offense in the game.
The team’s final score came on a 1-yard roll-out pass from junior quarterback A.J. Hill to junior fullback Rik Hicks with 6:19 to play.
Overall, Boatright said the shutout was a good way to cap the season and his career.
“As a senior, going out with a winning record and winning your last game is a good way to end your career,” he said. “This game was very important, and the way we finished this game is a good statement.”