SIU Plays SEMO in “The War for the Wheel”

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SIU and SEMO’s Rivalry Wheel stands on the Saluki’s sideline after SIU’s win against SEMO in 2017. The Wheel left with SEMO after their 48-44 victory at the SIU versus SEMO football game at the SIU Arena, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (Carson VanBuskirk | @carsonvanbDE)

The seventh ranked Southern Illinois Salukis football team are ready to play their first game of the year against the Southeastern Missouri State Redhawks. 

This rivalry game is coined the “War for the Wheel.” Teams compete for a galver, or captain’s wheel, as the trophy. The rivalry dates back to 1909. However, the “War for the Wheel” tradition began on September 15, 2018. 

Southeast Missouri State has held the wheel more years than SIU up to this point, they won the wheel in 2018 and 2019. However, the Salukis edged out a close victory last year after a game-winning field goal by kicker Nico Gualdoni sailed through the up-rights. 

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Senior running back JaVon Williams said this rivalry means a lot to both the coaches and the players.

“Coach talks to us a lot about keeping the wheel in the Saluki football lobby and…over the past few years of playing for the Salukis, it is a rival game for all of us.” he said, ”It’s a trophy game and we look at it as an accomplishment to win the game and we take it pretty seriously.” 

Senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir agreed with Williams.

“They’re a very good team with a very good coach.” he said, “every time we play them they put their best foot forward so we can’t go out there and underestimate them.”

6th year defensive tackle Jajuan Blankenship said the team plans to come out strong against the Redhawks and prove to everybody they are worthy of their Top 10 preseason ranking. 

“We don’t plan on getting caught up in the wheel and all that. We’ll leave that to the fans. We just wanna go out there and execute our game plan…If we do what we need to do…the wheel will take care of itself.” Blankenship said. 

All players made it clear that they’re not scared heading to Cape Girardeau this Thursday. Lenoir said the Salukis have put a lot of focus into going out there and playing their game, regardless of the opposing fans. 

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The team knows how to attack the Redhawks on the offensive side of the ball, he said. 

“For the offense…we want to try and make as many explosive plays as possible.” Lenoir said, “With the players we got on offense… that’s (going to be) our job. Our job is to go out there and make explosive plays and put 6 on the board.”

The team’s main goal for this game comes down to execution. Williams feels confident that if they play their best, winning will come easy. 

“We wanna go into the game and do everything to the best of our ability. Every play we run we want to do it as best we can and we want to execute…if we do that…I couldn’t see anybody standing in front of us.” Williams said. 

The players have some personal goals for themselves for this game as well. Williams and Lenoir  expressed that they wouldn’t put their personal goals over winning the game, but that they have it in the back of their mind. 

“My goal for the running back group, and for the team…is having no mental errors and playing with everything we got.” Williams said.

Lenoir said he’s going to try to stay healthy, be there for his teammates, and do the things he needs to do as a wide receiver. This includes keeping dropped passes to a minimum, running routes correctly and blocking on run plays. 

Blankenship will be sidelined for this game recovering from a quad injury, so he will not see the field in the game against SEMO. He does expect to be back soon in these coming weeks. 

The players and coaches expect that a victory on the road against a rival would be great for the team as they begin the season 

“We wanna approach everything week by week…once we get out there and play, that’ll also just help us continue to build the chemistry and comradery.” Blankenship said, “It’s about building momentum and bringing it onto the next week.”

The Salukis are excited for their first game of the year, and they understand what it means for the rest of their season. They plan to break down the Redhawks by creating explosive plays and pounding the ball down the field through their run game. The Salukis’ season opener will be an ample test to start the season.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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