SIU’s football team couldn’t hold on to a late lead in its bout with defending national champion North Dakota State University on Saturday and fell 23-13.
The Saluki offense sputtered as the clock waned, and NDSU took its first lead of the game with 5:23 remaining to later win the game.
“In the previous three weeks, we’ve been in games very similar to this one,” coach Dale Lennon said. “We’ve been able to make plays like we did today that gave us a chance to win at the end. Today, we just couldn’t find the right combination to pull it off.”
SIU (5-4, 4-2 MVC) began the game with an 11 play, 83-yard drive that was capped off by a 32-yard pass from junior quarterback Kory Faulkner to sophomore slot receiver LaSteven McKinney for a 7-0 advantage.
North Dakota State (7-1, 4-1) responded with an extended drive of its own and knotted the game at 7-7 on quarterback Brock Jensen’s 1-yard keeper with 12:26 to play in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, sophomore linebacker Tyler Williamson broke through the Bison offensive line on a blitz and pummeled Jensen, which forced a fumble in the process. Senior cornerback Brandon Williams recovered the loose ball and returned it 55 yards for the 14-7 SIU advantage.
The teams traded field goals before NDSU pieced together a 79-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Derrick Lang to tie the game at 17-17 with less than 13 minutes to play.
The Bison took advantage and scored again when the Salukis failed to convert a first down on a pair of drives, this time on a 5-yard run by running back John Crockett.
With five minutes left to play, the Salukis had an opportunity to win with a scoring drive, but Faulkner was picked off to seal it.
SIU managed eight first downs in the contest compared to North Dakota’s 23.
“This was a classic game where we set ourselves up pretty well to be successful heading into the fourth quarter,” Lennon said. “We just didn’t have enough juice in the tank to finish the game like we needed to.”
With two games remaining, the Salukis still have hopes for the playoffs.
“We’re still alive,” said senior nose tackle Kayon Swanson. “The magic number that people throw out there is seven (wins). We only have two games left, and both games are at home. We think that we have a chance to get to seven. We have to regroup tomorrow and get back to work.”
The Salukis will face South Dakota State University Saturday at home with kickoff scheduled for 2:00 p.m.