The SIU football team trailed for only seven seconds of its 16-12 home loss to No. 21 South Dakota State University Saturday.
SIU grabbed a 7-0 lead with 4:07 left in the first quarter on a 7-yard flex sweep by sophomore wide receiver LaSteven McKinney. The Salukis didn’t relinquish the advantage until the Jackrabbits’ game-winning drive to close the contest.
Trailing 12-9 with only a few minutes to go, SDSU (7-2, 5-1) got the ball on its own 6-yard line with one last chance to piece together a scoring drive. The Jackrabbits responded with a 94-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Sumner to receiver Trevor Tiefenthaler with seven seconds left. Sumner completed 11 of his 16 pass attempts on the drive, including a rainbow throw across the field to Tiefenthaler on fourth-and-19 to keep the drive alive.
“Throughout the whole game, there was belief that we could come back and win it,” Sumner said. “We got in a hole early and battled and battled and battled. It’s a testament to this team and its toughness. We’re a special group, and we know it.”
SIU (5-5, 4-3) had multiple opportunities to close out the game but failed to convert on all five of its third-down attempts in the fourth quarter.
“It was definitely a team loss,” McKinney said. “You can say the defense didn’t stop them, but we had many chances to make points and close the game out, and we didn’t. I think we did everything we could to try to get the job done, but at the end of the day they played good defense and stopped us.”
McKinney finished the game with four catches for 26 yards and eight rushes on the 46-yard flex sweep.
The offense put together a scoring drive early in the second quarter that ended with a career-longest 42-yard field goal from freshman kicker Austin Johnson. The Salukis didn’t make it into scoring position for the rest of the game, with the only other points coming from a safety by senior defensive end Eze Obiora and senior nose tackle Kayon Swanson in the fourth quarter.
SIU kept the Jackrabbits offense at bay by limiting running back Zach Zenner, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing with 181 yards per game, to only 54 yards on the ground.
“That was one of our main goals was to limit his success, slow him down, try to make them as one-dimensional as possible, and we had some success in doing that,” Lennon said. “I thought defensively we did pretty well against the run.”
SDSU was also forced to start multiple drives with bad field position, as junior punter Austin Pucylowski averaged 36.4 yards on his eight punts and placed four inside the 20 yard line.
“Coach said any punt that didn’t go in the end zone was a good punt,” Pucylowski said. “I tried to keep it at least inside the 10.”
The win was the 100th of SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier’s career.
“I’m proud of the Jackrabbits,” Stiegelmeier said. “Our battling at the end on the drive … so many of our guys rose up and made plays. There was time on the clock, so I had faith. I had faith in our players. I had faith in our coaching staff. That’s the only way I coach. I don’t know any other way.”
The Salukis have a bye this week before closing their season with Western Illinois Nov. 17.