SIU running back Javon Williams Jr., left, leaps into the air to bump fellow teammate Romeir Elliott after Williams 40-yard touchdown run in the Salukis’ 20-17 win over the Redhawks on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at Saluki stadium in Carbondale, Ill. (Jared Treece | @bisalo)
SIU running back Javon Williams Jr., left, leaps into the air to bump fellow teammate Romeir Elliott after Williams 40-yard touchdown run in the Salukis’ 20-17 win over the Redhawks on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at Saluki stadium in Carbondale, Ill.

Jared Treece | @bisalo

Salukis steal the wheel with field goal win over SEMO

October 31, 2020

A field goal was the decider in SIU Football’s Oct. 30 season opener against the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks. 

SIU senior kicker, Nico Gualdoni, came into the game to kick at the 27-yard line with two seconds left on the fourth quarter clock. The kick was completed and declared good by the referees: this kick gave SIU the final 20-17 advantage over SEMO in the matchup.

Time expired and the Salukis stormed the field grabbing the coveted wooden wheel that, a year prior, was held by the opposing team. 

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“That’s what it’s all about, seeing the smile on their faces, the excitement. The game is a big game regardless, but in this era of coming together and everything that was on the line, knowing that we have one game, we don’t have a game next week, as a head coach, I’m just thankful that everyone got to share in that excitement and I’m proud of them,” Saluki head coach Nick Hill said.

The 88th meeting of the teams, otherwise known as the “War For The Wheel,” was hosted at a socially distanced Saluki Stadium. 

The last head-to-head battle between SIU and SEMO resulted in a 44-26 Saluki loss at Southeast’s Houck Stadium. 

“We knew it was going to be a game we had to earn, that’s what it was,” Hill said. 

This matchup will be Southern’s only game in 2020, the remainder of their season has been pushed to the Spring of 2021 due to COVID-19. 

“[We’re] extremely thankful and grateful for the opportunity to play and take the field. I feel like both programs felt that,” Hill said. “I’m just proud of our guys and their focus, resilience, these guys have been resilient and there have been some ups and downs of just getting to this point.” 

The Salukis gained possession of the ball for the first time with just over 14 minutes on the first quarter clock. Shortly after, an interception was thrown by SIU senior quarterback Karé Lyles giving the ball back to SEMO.

 After a slow start from both teams, Redhawk redshirt sophomore Geno Hess rushed for 61 yards to the SIU two-yard line with just under five minutes left to play in the first quarter. 

Hess carried twice more for SEMO earning the first touchdown of the game. The PAT put the Redhawks ahead 7-0.

After ending the first quarter scoreless, Southern got onto the board with a 23-yard field goal from Gualdoni. Prior to the kick, the Salukis remained at the SEMO six-yard line with two incomplete passes.

The score remained unchanged until the end of the first half.

At the half, both teams had one interception, with the Redhawks and Salukis having completed three and seven passes respectively. Both teams finished the game with two interceptions.

SEMO led the first half in rushing yards 184 to SIU’s 81, while Southern led in passing yards 76 to Southeast Missouri’s 24.

At the end of the game, the Redhawks tallied 281 total rushing yards to SIU’s 260. The Salukis totaled 152 passing yards to SEMO’s 53.

Lyles said he thought SIU’s passing game helped to open up lanes for running backs like sophomores Javon WIlliams Jr. and Romeir Elliott.

Both teams struggled to score for a large majority of the third quarter, with neither reaching the end zone nor kicking a field goal for the first 10 minutes of play.

The Salukis reached the end zone for the first time of the night with just under five minutes left to play in the third quarter on a 40-yard rush from Williams Jr. 

A field goal from Gualdoni would give Southern a 10-7 lead over SEMO. 

The Redhawks responded on their next possession, scoring their second touchdown of the night after six plays, on a 21-yard pass to junior wide receiver Johnny King. 

The touchdown from King, followed by a PAT from redshirt senior Kendrick Tiller, allowed SEMO to regain the lead at 14-10 with just over two minutes left to play in the third quarter. 

After one scoreless possession from both teams to start the fourth quarter, Southern made it back into the end zone for another touchdown, this time from junior wide receiver Avante Cox. 

The 17-yard pass from Lyles to Cox was completed after four plays and following a PAT from Gualdoni gave SIU a three-point lead at 17-14.

Unable to score against the Saluki defense with 4:16 on the clock, SEMO completed a 32-yard field goal to tie the game 17-17.

“I feel like the difference in the game was just controlling the line of scrimmage in the second half,” Hill said. “I can’t say enough about Coach Petrino and his defensive staff for what they were able to do tonight to get us that win,” Hill said.

The 27-yard field goal from Gualdoni in the final seconds of the game would secure the win for Southern at 20-17.

Hill said he was happy with the team’s performance and the win, despite some aspects of their play needing to be cleaned up.

Saluki Football will take the field again at Saluki Stadium on Feb. 20 against the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits. A kick-off time has yet to be announced.

Lyles said the game gave the team an opportunity to see where they are as a program and work on different aspects of their game during the long break.

Editor Tāmar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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