Comeback Dawgs: Late-game heroics help Salukis knock off #2 ranked South Dakota State in Overtime.

By Joseph Bernard, Staff Reporter

After being down 20-0 in the second quarter, SIU football (5-1, 3-0 MVC) managed to upset #2 ranked South Dakota State (4-1, 1-1 MVC) by a final score of 42-41 in Overtime.

It took another big game from the offense to get the job done today. The offense put up a total of 546 combined yards on the day. Sophomore quarterback Nic Baker slashed the Jackrabbit defense with four touchdown passes, 359 passing yards, and completed 28 passes out of 45 attempts.

Taking the weight off of The passing game when needed was senior running back Donnavan Spencer. Spencer totaled 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns off of 10 carries. Spencer’s 10-yard rushing touchdown gave the Salukis the lead for the first time all day, making it 42-35 in overtime, and won the game for the Salukis.

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Senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir was Baker’s main target of the day, totaling 147 receiving yards and two touchdowns off 10 catches in 14 targets. Lenoir had a clutch 19-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds left to tie the game up at 35 all.

Defensively, SIU did just enough to get the job done against South Dakota State. With two interceptions, six tackles for losses, and one forced fumble, SIU won the turnover battle 3-1 with SIU giving up the ball once on offense. It was freshman linebacker Jakari Patterson and sophomore Safety Clayton Bush who came up with interceptions on the day, while freshman defensive lineman Adam Hundemer forced a fumble.

The Salukis didn’t get off to the start they were looking for. Four straight offensive drives ended quickly and with no points scored, while the defense was looking for answers against the Jackrabbit offense that put up 20 points on them quickly. SIU found themselves in a 20-0 hole with only 21 minutes of game time being played.

SIU’s fifth offensive drive gave them the spark of encouragement. Baker found senior wide receiver Jerron Rollins open for a 61-yard touchdown pass to give the Salukis their first points of the night and made the score 20-7. A quick interception by the defense gave SIU the ball back quickly in the Jackrabbit red-zone. Soon after, Baker nailed Lenoir in stride to make it a close game again and the score was within one possession going into halftime at 20-14.

Late in the third quarter, SIU had a chance to take the lead for the first time all day. At the Jackrabbit one-yard line, sophomore running back Javon Williams Jr dived near the endzone looking to score, but was hit hard last second and fumbled the football just to be picked up by a Jackrabbit defender who took an easy scoop and score all the way to the Saluki endzone for a 97-yard touchdown run. The play was a gut-punch to the Salukis and shifted momentum completely to South Dakota State, making it 28-14 late in the third quarter.

However, SIU didn’t want to back down from the fight. SIU and SDSU swapped touchdown drives early in the fourth to make it 35-21. SDSU almost put the nail in the coffin with their 85-yard touchdown run, but Spencer had something to say about that. Spencer had a huge 63-yard touchdown run immediately following SDSU’s big rush, making it a one-possession game again at 35-28.

SIU’s defense did exactly what they needed to do in the next drive. They blocked a field goal attempt that would have iced the game and gave SIU the ball back with just over 3 minutes to go.

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Baker came up huge for the Salukis on the following drive, coming up with two huge fourth down conversions on fourth down to keep the Salukis alive. At the SDSU 19-yard line with 34 seconds left, Baker put the ball in just the right spot for Lenoir to come up with a touchdown and tie things late at 35 all.

Overtime began with SDSU winning the coin toss and SIU getting the ball at the 25-yard line to start things. After three plays, Spencer rushed up the middle for a huge overtime touchdown to put SIU up for the first time on the day at 42-35, but the defense still had work to do to seal the win.

SDSU got the ball at the 25-yard line for their own chance to win the game. The defense failed to stop SDSU from scoring a touchdown, but SDSU attempted the two-point conversion instead of opting to tie things up. The SDSU quarterback was off-target on his throw, and SIU escaped with the victory against #2 SDSU.

The game was one of the craziest in recent SIU memory for a lot of players and coaches, with a lot of ups and downs throughout the battle. Spencer said that it will be one he’ll remember for a long time.

“I’ve played in some crazy games but this is definitely one of the most memorable. South Dakota State is a great opponent, but we knew we had to come up here and get a win and that’s what we did. I love those guys to death, my offensive line, the defense, they’ve pulled me in as a family and that’s what we’re going to do all the way until the end,” Spencer said.

Baker said the team never backed down throughout the highs and the lows.

“We’re a confident group and we never blinked. We’ve done it before week-in and week-out. It’s just everyone in that huddle; everyone is positive and everyone is a fighter. Everyone has that attitude,” Baker said.

Baker said the performance by SIU says a lot about their ability to win the conference championship.

“If you want to win the conference championship you have to win against really hare teams on the road and that’s what we did today,” Baker said.

Coach Nick Hill recognized the importance of what the win means to their team.

“The goal is to win the league and we feel like if we do that we’ll be the top team in the country with our league. SDSU has done it for a long time, they’ve been to the playoffs many years in a row, I don’t know how much, so to do it in a game like that, it just means a lot to our guys,” Hill said.

SIU will continue their season next week back home for their homecoming game against North Dakota with a 2 p.m kickoff.

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

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