The SIU football team came into Saturday’s road matchup with Youngstown State with an opportunity to grab a share of first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Hours later, South Dakota State, which had yet to lose in conference, was defeated by Northern Iowa, and the Salukis claimed some of first place in the MVFC with a 38- 21 win.
SIU (5-3, 4-1) trailed throughout most of the contest and took its first lead with 1:22 left to play in the third quarter on a play-action touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kory Faulkner to sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt. Faulkner completed 20 of his 30 passing attempts for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Pruitt was the Salukis’ leading receiver with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
“We didn’t have a very good first half,” coach Dale Lennon said. “That was our biggest concern. Defensively, could we figure out the combinations to slow them down?”
Earlier in the week, linebacker Tyler Williamson said the defense would need to find ways to create turnovers when it faced the Penguins and star quarterback Kurt Hess.
With 9:14 left in the fourth quarter, Williamson recovered a fumble in the end zone after Hess couldn’t control the shot gun snap, which gave the Salukis a 10-point advantage with 31-21.
Youngstown rallied and put together a pair of solid drives to come back, but each series was concluded prematurely with one of five forced Saluki turnovers in the second half.
With less than a minute to play in the game, safety Anthony Thompson intercepted Hess in the end zone and took the pick 100 yards the opposite way for the score. It was Thompson’s second chance at a defensive touchdown, as the freshman recovered a blocked punt earlier in the game.
““I was going to go down because I heard everyone yelling,” Thompson said. “Since I didn’t get a touchdown on the punt block, I just wanted a touchdown, so I just kept going.”
SIU was outgained 256 to 362 in the contest, but Lennon said the team came out on top with gritty play down the stretch.
“Youngstown is a good team,” he said. “We were backed up and in trouble. The guys hung in there, and we found ways to claw our way back into the game. I hope we do have a swagger now. When we take the field, we want to have a pretty good feeling that we’re going to be successful.”
The Salukis travel to Fargo, N.D., Saturday for a bout with North Dakota State, the defending national champions. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.