SIU football defeated No. 9 Illinois State Saturday, winning an ugly game 17-0 to ruin the Redbirds’ homecoming and perfect season.
The Saluki defense proved to be the difference as it shut out a potent Redbird offense that averaged 39.6 points per game in its first five contests. ISU was unable to convert on 12 third downs and had to punt nine times.
Redbird senior Matt Brown was intercepted by SIU four times. Brown had a total of only three interceptions on the season before the game.
SIU sophomore linebacker Tyler Williamson anchored the suffocating defense with a career performance. He had an interception, a sack and led the defense with seven tackles.
Williamson, who started for injured senior Jayson DiManche, said the key to the game was to contain Brown, a Marion native.
“We knew we had to get after him today,” he said. “We just tried to contain him all day.”
The special teams unit put the Salukis on the board in the first quarter when junior linebacker Cameron James blocked an ISU punt. Freshman safety Anthony Thompson scooped the loose ball and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
Coach Dale Lennon said the team watched film of ISU’s punt formations during the week and noticed the punter did not have substantial protection.
“We felt we could get a potential block coming off the edge,” he said. “The way it all presented itself, it all worked out just like we had practiced, and the guys did a good job of executing.”
Freshman kicker Austin Johnson added three points in the second quarter with a 33-yard field goal. It was his second conversion of the season.
ISU threatened in the third as it got down to the Saluki 25 yard line, but an interception from freshman D.J. Cameron put the momentum back on SIU’s side.
The Salukis scored their only offensive touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter when sophomore runningback Mika’il McCall capped a 91-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, which gave SIU its 17-0 lead.
Sophomore MyCole Pruitt got the drive going with a 32-yard reception on third down, which brought the Salukis to midfield. An Illinois State facemask call, one of eight Redbird penalties, tacked on an additional 15 yards.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” Pruitt said.
Both junior cornerback Terrell Wilson and junior linebacker Bryan Presume had interceptions in the fourth quarter, capping off a dominant defensive showing.
The Salukis held Illinois State to just 257 yards of total offense, nearly 200 shy of its average coming into the game.
Redbird coach Brock Spack said it was the first time his team had been faced with adversity during the season.
“It should be a learning moment for our team,” he said.
SIU had its own offensive struggles as it accumulated only 182 total offensive yards.
Junior quarterback Kory Faulkner went 7-21 for 73 yards, but senior runningback Steven Strother kept the offense alive at times as he rushed 15 times for 80 yards.
“Offensively, there’s still things that we would like to be doing better,” Lennon said.
The victory was a big statement for the Salukis, who have won three of their last four games and are now 3-3 on the season and 2-1 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
The team will return to Saluki Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday against Northern Iowa for the Homecoming game. The Panthers are 1-4 on the season and 0-2 in the MVFC.