Down go the Dawgs: Salukis lose first FCS game to #16 Northern Iowa Panthers

On Saturday, Oct. 30, #3 SIU (6-2; MVC 4-1) faced off against #16 Northern Iowa (5-3; MVC 3-2) after a bye week where the Salukis had time to recover. The Salukis fell to the Panthers 23-16 in a Missouri Valley Conference battle.  

The Salukis started off the game with a bang after sophomore quarterback Nic Baker completed a pass to junior wideout Avante Cox for a 39 yard completion. SIU capped off the drive with a 48-yard field goal by senior kicker Nico Gualdoni at 12:51 left in the first quarter. Salukis on top,  3-0. 

The Salukis continued with that momentum after freshman linebacker Branson Combs got an interception during UNI’s first drive. The Salukis weren’t able to follow this up, however, after Baker fumbled the ball at 7:24 and the Panthers recovered. 

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Senior linebacker Bryce Notree received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after both plays, therefore he was ejected from the game. Freshman linebacker Branson Combs said the defense helped the Salukis keep the game within reach, but there were still places they could’ve been better.

“Defense had some big plays including some takeaways, but in the third quarter we let them pound the ball down the middle […] and we gotta be a little better on that.” Combs said. 

Northern Iowa scored a field goal with 5:35 left in the first quarter to tie the game, 3-3. The field goal was scored by sophomore kicker Matthew Cook. 

The score stayed 3-3 until the second quarter. 

SIU failed to convert a fourth-down conversion to start the second quarter, but they immediately got the ball back after a fumble recovery by freshman defensive tackle Gianini Belizaire at 13:47 left in the second quarter. 

However, the Salukis were not able to capitalize on the turnover.

SIU managed to get their second score of the game at 9:33 in the second quarter after Baker threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir. Salukis regained the lead 10-3.

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Southern Illinois continued their defensive prowess and got the ball back so Gualdoni could hit his second field goal of the game. This time a 47-yarder to make the score 13-3. 

UNI closed the half with a 31 yard field by Cook to make the score 13-6 heading into the half. 

The Panthers got the ball to start the second half, and they took advantage. Sophomore quarterback Theo Day threw a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Sam Schnee with 10:58 left in the third quarter. This touchdown tied the game 13-13. 

The Salukis answered with a 33 yard field goal by Gualdoni to make the score 16-13. 

However, the Panthers wouldn’t back down, and the Panthers grabbed their first lead of the game at 2:49 left in the third quarter. Day threw a touchdown pass to senior tight end Kyle Fourtenberry to make the score 20-16. 

Combs came up with his second interception of the day at 14:50 in the fourth quarter to help the Salukis gain momentum. 

SIU was not able to capitalize on the turnover as Baker threw an interception right away to junior cornerback Benny Sapp. 

Southern Illinois managed to get a stop and the ball back but Baker threw another interception at 8:01 after a tipped ball by Northern Iowa. 

After both teams stopped the opposing teams’ drives, UNI’s Cook made a 42-yard field goal to make the score 23-16. 

With an opportunity to tie, this drive was the Salukis’ last hope at a victory. 

The Salukis drove the ball all the way from their own 25 to inside their opponent’s redzone. On fourth and goal, Baker threw the ball to senior wide receiver Jerron Rollins on the left side of the end zone.

The pass was broken up by sophomore cornerback Omar Brown, sealing the victory for the Panthers. 

Hill said a big factor in Southern Illinois’ loss was not being able to score a touchdown but instead, settling for a field goal.

“It comes down to being solid in the redzone. When we get that opportunity […] we have to execute and we have to come away with seven,” Hill said. 

Combs said this game is going to hurt the team for tonight, but they will be ready to get back at it. 

“The most frustrating thing obviously is we came out with a loss. It’s a team thing where we all have to get better, but we’re going to move on and be better next week,” Combs said. 

The top performers for the Salukis were Lenoir with four receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown, and Cox with six receptions for 84 yards.

Hill said Southern Illinois is very happy to have Cox back in the lineup after his injury. He said Cox has the ability to make dynamic plays and that’ll be able to help the team down the stretch. 

On the defensive side, Combs came up big with 6 tackles (including a pivotal fourth down stop) and two interceptions. 

The Salukis will hope to bounce back next Saturday, Nov. 6, against Missouri State at home.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

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