Baker’s Big Day: SIU wins War-of-the-Wheel matchup over SEMO 47-21

James+Ceasar+%282%29+holds+the+wheel+with+his+teammates+after+defeating+Southeast+Missouri+State+University+47-21+Sept.+2%2C+2021+at+Houck+Stadium+in+Cape+Girardeau%2C+Mo.+

Chris Bishop | @quippedmediallc

James Ceasar (2) holds the wheel with his teammates after defeating Southeast Missouri State University 47-21 Sept. 2, 2021 at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

By Joseph Bernard, Staff Reporter

Headlined by Quarterback Nic Baker and Wide Receiver Avante Cox, SIU captured a win in their first game of the season against close rival Southeastern Missouri.

The night was ruled by the connection between Baker and Cox. Baker completed 25 passes on 34 attempts for a staggering 460 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Cox was responsible for 187 of those yards, which included a record-setting 99-yard touchdown catch and run on the first play from scrimmage.

Senior Wide Receiver Landon Lenoir, Freshman Wide Receiver Izaia Hartrup, and Junior Tight End Tyce Daniel also had a touchdown catch themselves.

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Sophomore Running Backs Justin Strong and Javon Williams Jr. highlighted the ground game. Strong rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown and Williams rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries and also added a touchdown.

The defense contained SEMO’s offense fairly well with four total sacks, seven QB hits, six tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.

Photos by Christopher Bishop | @quippedmediallc

Senior linebacker Bryce Notree commented on their ability to get so much pressure on SEMO’s offense.

“We have depth, especially at the defensive line, linebacker, and in the secondary. The most stifling thing right now is knowing that we’re able to put the pads on and really rush the quarterback,” Notree said.

Senior linebacker Qua Brown spoke on the Salukis reaction to the win.

“It felt great, but obviously there’s a lot more we could have done out there. We had one takeaway, and we were looking to have more in this game. We just need to lock in and find ways to get more next game,” Brown said.

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Brown said the game plan going in was to disguise their coverages.

“We knew they were a big team as far as attacking deep down the field, so we were trying to do a pretty good job at disguising coverage pre-snap and then moving to our spots quickly post-snap so the linemen can get their pass-rush on,” Brown said.

Southern Illinois’ defense had a big stop to start things off at the SIU 36 yard line to keep SEMO out of the endzone. The drive included a touchdown-saving tackle by Senior Safety Qua Brown to keep SEMO from getting a quick score. Three plays later, SEMO was forced to punt from the SIU 36 yard line.

The punt backed SIU’s offense all the way to the 1-yard line, but that wasn’t too tall of a task for the Saluki offense. Baker hit Cox in stride for a 99-yard long touchdown pass, a new SIU record. The touchdown put SIU up 7-0 right away and set the tone for the offense the rest of the way.

SEMO came right back with a score of their own from Junior Quarterback CJ Ogbonna and Graduate Wide Receiver Zack Smith to tie things up 7-7.

A touchdown catch late in the first quarter by Daniel put the Salukis up for good and made the score 14-7.

By the end of the first half, the Salukis were already up 28-7 after a touchdown catch by Hartrup and a rushing touchdown by Strong. Baker finished the first half already with an impressive 14 catches on 18 attempts for 294 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. Cox also finished with an impressive first-half stat line with four catches for 142 yards receiving and a touchdown.

The Salukis received the ball to start off the second half. That drive led to a 28-yard field goal by Senior Kicker Nico Gualdoni to make it 31-7 early in the third quarter.

A rushing touchdown by Williams and a pick-six from Nic Baker put things at 38-14 at the end of the third quarter. The pass went in and out of the hands of a Saluki receiver and ended up in the arms of Junior Linebacker Mike Matthews of SEMO and walked into the endzone for their second score of the day.

Baker kept cooking with yet another touchdown pass to Lenoir to start the fourth quarter. After that, Baker got the rest of the night off and was replaced by Freshman Quarterback Stone Norton for the last three SIU drives of the night. Norton led the offense to a field goal on the next drive to make the score 47-14.

SEMO managed to score with under two minutes left on a touchdown pass from Junior Quarterback Christian Perez to Junior Wide Receiver Garrett Todd. This made the score 47-21 which ended up being the final score of the night.

The Salukis continue their season next week in Manhattan Kan. against the Kansas State Wildcats with a 6 p.m kickoff time.

Sports reporter Joseph Bernard can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @Jojobernard2001.

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