Tale of two halves: SIU football defeats the Penguins

By Adam Warfel, Staff Reporter

After giving up 19 points and allowing 186 yards in the first half, the Saluki defense gave up only three points on 111 yards in the second half leading Southern to a 30-22 win.

“I give a lot of credit to our defensive staff, they do a really good job of just seeing things on x’s and o’s,” senior inside linebacker Bryson Strong said. “Reiterating what we need to do to get stops on defense there in the second half.”

The win was the first for Southern at Stambaugh Stadium in head coach Nick Hill’s tenure, either as a coach or as a player.


“When you win you gotta enjoy them, never be disappointed about a win,” Hill said. “I’ve never won here as a player or as a coach.”

After defeating the then number one ranked team in the country North Dakota State, SIU ( 3-1, 2-1 MVC) was looking to turn one win into a winning streak by beating Youngstown State (YSU).

In their first possession of the game the Penguins used 13 plays taking six minutes and 30 seconds off the clock, when freshman quarterback Mark Waid rushed for a touchdown.

“I expected a game that was going to be a grind and a hard fought game, just like every game in this league is going to be,” Hill said.

The Penguins (0-3, 0-3)  would score another touchdown again, running the ball into the endzone to go up 12-0 on SIU after they intercepted a pass by sophomore quarterback Nic Baker.

“You’re never going to rattle Nic, that’s the one thing about Nic,” Hill said. “The kid has something, he just has that ‘it’. So if he throws a pick, he doesn’t lack confidence the next series.”

Southern would answer YSU giving the ball often to sophomore running back Javon Williams Jr., as he picked up 50 rushing yards ending in a touchdown. The PAT was good, making the score 12-7 early in the second quarter.


“I’ve played with Nic,  four or five years now and we all make mistakes,” junior wide receiver Avante Cox said. “His number one thing is he never dwells on it. That’s our offense, next play up.”

The Saluki defense struggled most of the first half to get the ball back, as Youngstown State converted two fourth downs on their third drive of the game that ended in a touchdown to stretch their lead back out to 12.

SIU answered quickly with time running low in the first half, scoring a touchdown in just over a minute, with Baker accumulating 48 yards of offense including a 17 yard touchdown run to bring Southern within striking distance at 19-13 after the extra point attempt was missed.

“Our number one key was just take what they give us,” Cox said. “Once we saw we could run and just pound it  down their throat, we’ve got three great running backs and all three could easily start.”

After kicking off to the Penguins to start the game, the Salukis got the ball to start the second half and they took advantage of it.

Southern used a balanced attack of 29 passing yards and 41 rushing yards on a 12-play drive which ended in a two yard touchdown pass from Baker to sophomore running back Justin Strong giving them a 20-19 lead.

“Bouncing back from a tough first half, I think that it shows we’re a good ball club,” Strong said. “We’re coming to play every game, we know that we’re going to get everyone’s best game.”

The Saluki defense forced a three and out on the Penguins’ first possession of the third quarter with a sack by senior defensive end Anthony Knighton forcing the Penguins to punt.

Southern once again found themselves in the red zone, but they were unable to turn the opportunity into a touchdown when a pass from Baker to Cox fell incomplete.

SIU was able to turn the nine-play drive into three points when senior kicker Nico Gualdoni made the 22 yard field goal attempt pushing the SIU lead to 23-19.

The Penguins converted two fourth downs and on a third down they needed six yards, but the Saluki defense stopped Waid one yard behind the line and forced a field goal that closed the gap to one point.

At the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter, Baker found senior wide receiver Landon Lenior open for a 37 yard touchdown to extend the lead to 30-22.

“I was on the other side running an over route, but what I saw was he was pressed up at first,” Cox said. “They bit, he was a true freshman so he bit for a lot of things really aggressive. We knew we could get him at some point.”

YSU was driving and found themselves at their own 39 yard line, but a fumble by Waid gave the ball back to the Salukis.

“We’re going to keep working, we’re going to keep fighting, we will be the best version of ourselves,” Strong said. “I also don’t believe we’ve played our best game yet, which says a lot.”

The Penguins threatened to tie the game late in the fourth quarter with a 33 yard pass from Waid to senior tight end Andrew Ogletree, but two incomplete passes ended the threat by YSU.

“We’re a resilient group, we’re locked in on the details,” Strong said. “We’re not going to let anything slip, we feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country.”

That gave Southern the ball with 51 seconds left and Baker took a knee to end the game and take the win 30-22.

“‘Whatever it takes,’ that was the motto for the week,” Hill said. “Get on that plane with a win and let’s get back to Carbondale.”

Up next, SIU will face off against UNI at Saluki Stadium with kickoff set for 12pm.


Sports Reporter Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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