The SIU Salukis walk to the stadium on Saturday, April, 17, 2021 for the game against Southeastern Louisiana University in Carbondale, Ill. (Bryon Hetzler)
The SIU Salukis walk to the stadium on Saturday, April, 17, 2021 for the game against Southeastern Louisiana University in Carbondale, Ill.

Bryon Hetzler

Salukis win 55-48, await the playoff committee’s decision

April 17, 2021

The No. 18 Southern Illinois Salukis (5-3, 3-3 MVC) defeated the No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana Lions (4-3,4-2 Southland) in a very high scoring game Saturday April 17 at Saluki Stadium. 

Southern Illinois set a new all-time record for offensive yards with 807 in the victory.

Lion’s senior quarterback Cole Kelley threw for 418 yards and two passing touchdowns in the game. Saluki junior quarterback Stone Labanowitz threw for 328 and two passing touchdowns. 


Jonathan Thompson, SIU cornerback, tackles a Southeastern Louisiana University player on Saturday, April, 17, 2021 in Carbondale, Ill. (Bryon Hetzler)

Saluki sophomore running backs Justin Strong and running back Javon Williams Jr. ran for 161 and 150 yards respectively and both had two touchdowns.

The Salukis led 55-48 with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and were able to run out the clock and kneeled for final minute of the game. 

Strong discussed the offense today, saying they needed to keep scoring, so they did.

“We just knew that if they were going to keep scoring we had to keep scoring no matter what. So we just kept it together and kept on driving together,” Strong said. 

Labanowitz discussed the offensive output from the running backs today and said that today was exciting for them.

“I’ve never really seen it this way before today but today I would hand it off and sit back and just watch the offensive line go to work,” Labanowitz said. 

Head coach Nick Hill said the Salukis’ offense was resilient today and that’s why they were able to keep scoring.


Strong spoke on the team’s playoff resume, after the game, and why he thinks they deserve to be in the field of 16. 

“I would say that we’re a dominant team, we’ve dealt with adversity just like everybody else, just like the coach said. But we stuck to it and in our eyes we feel like we can beat anybody in the country,” Strong said. 

Hill said the team deserves a spot in the playoffs. 

“A committee doesn’t have to tell me that we’re one of the top 16 teams in the country. I get how our playoffs are set up with each conference getting one team but I’m not worried about that. There’s not six other teams out there in the country to get an at large bid besides us,” Hill said. 

Hill also thanked Southeastern Louisiana and their coaches for scheduling the game on short notice.

“I have a ton of respect for them and we built a friendship that I think will last forever,” Hill said. 

The Salukis won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. The Lions gained 50 yards on the first play from scrimmage which helped lead them to an opening drive touchdown.

Kelley ran it in from the one yard line to give the Lions a 6-0 lead within three minutes, however the extra point attempt from junior kicker Mateo Rengifo was no good.

SIU struck back quickly as Labonowitz completed a pass to Landon Lenoir for 43 yards to help set up SIU. 

Labanowitz ran it in from four yards out for the touchdown and the extra point from senior kicker Nico Gualdoni gave SIU a 7-6 lead with over nine minutes left in the first quarter.  

The Lions then had to punt and once again the Salukis scored on the ensuing possession. A 39 yard pass from Labanowitz to junior wide receiver Avante Cox set up the Salukis at the 21 yard line. After three runs in a row from Strong SIU was in the endzone again. 

Kelley then ran for another touchdown to make the game 14-13.

The Salukis would score yet again, after driving down to the one early in the second quarter Williams Jr. got it in the endzone to get SIU a 21-13 lead. 

After Kelley ran for his third touchdown of the day to cut the lead to 21-20, SIU responded again on a Williams Jr. touchdown from eight yards out. The Salukis failed to convert the two point conversion so the score stayed at 27-20. 

The Lions tied the game with under three minutes left in the first half but SIU found a way to take the lead into the half. 

SIU had what looked to be a three-and-out before senior punter Jack Coquhoun ran for 22 yards on the fake, leading to a touchdown pass from Labanowitz to Lenoir giving SIU a 34-27 lead. 

Two plays are all it took for SIU to score again in the second half as a 47 yard pass from Labanowitz to Cox put the Salukis up by 14. 

A Lions touchdown and then a fumble by Cox allowed the Lions to tie the game up at 41 late in the third quarter. 

With under two minutes left before the fourth, Williams Jr. found junior fullback Jacob Garrett for a 56 yard touchdown pass. 

On the ensuing possession, Kelley came under pressure and fumbled, the ball was recovered by SIU and that led to a Strong touchdown to get SIU a 55-41 lead. 

The Lions would score once more but SIU ran the clock for the final five minutes to put the game away. 

SIU will wait to find out the playoff committee’s decision on Sunday, April 18, at 10:30 a.m.

Sports reporter Ryan Scott can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RyanscottDE.

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