Redhawks take the Wheel with 11 seconds left; Salukis fall to 0-2


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)

For at least the next 370 days, the Wheel will reside in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The SEMO Redhawks (1-1) claimed the trophy for the first time since 2019 with a 34-31 victory over the SIU Salukis (0-2) in Carbondale on Saturday.

The 90th all-time meeting between the two rivals saw nine lead changes and 31 combined points in the fourth quarter. The final of those changes came on a Redhawks touchdown with just 11 seconds left in the game.

That game-winning drive for the Redhawks was characterized by two issues that had plagued the Salukis all game: pass defense and penalties. SEMO quarterback Paxton DeLaurent threw for the sticks several times as they marched down the field. The largest of those plays was a 28-yard pass to Ryan Flournoy, who finished with 10 catches for 145 yards, to set SEMO up at the SIU 23.


That pass to Flournoy had a flag thrown against the Salukis for a late hit out of bounds, but the penalty was picked up. It served as an omen for things to come, as the Saluki defense twice stopped the Redhawks on fourth down only for defensive pass interference calls to give them four more shots at the end zone.

“When you get twelve chances at the goal line, it’s bound to go in,” Saluki receiver Avante Cox said.

Eventually, the Redhawks capitalized on their opportunities, as DeLaurent found Damoriea Vick in the end zone for what would be the game-winning touchdown. While the penalties, controversial calls among the Saluki faithful, seemed to determine the result, head coach Nick Hill says the Salukis needed to not let the game come down to those calls.

“We didn’t talk anything about bad calls,” Hill said. “We’ve got to win the football game before we let referees decide the outcome of the game.”

Twice the Salukis, as well as the crowd at Saluki Stadium, felt that they had prevailed, only for penalties to delay and ultimately derail the celebration.

“Especially the first one, or many the second one, there was three of them; I was jumping up and down,” Cox said. “I thought the game was over with, so all we have to do is go take a knee.”

Those late-game penalties were just some of the 13 penalties SIU had been flagged for on Saturday night. In a contest where the teams were evenly-matched in nearly every other aspect, that undisciplined display served as a crucial difference between them.


Southern Illinois had its own go-ahead score late in the game, which saw Southeast Missouri State suffer from some of the same issues that would cost the Salukis later. It started off with a 33-yard completion from Saluki quarterback Nic Baker to Javon Williams Jr., and was followed up with pass interference against the Redhawks to set SIU up near the red zone.

Justin Strong would punch it in to give Southern a four-point lead with just under three minutes left in the game. That would be just enough for SEMO to take the lead back, thanks in large part to those two fourth-down penalties.

“They’re a great defense, so I don’t think we were really trying to milk the clock,” Cox said of the offense’s late-game strategy. “We were just trying to move the ball and play our game.”

The Saluki offense had a much stronger showing on Saturday than it had in week 1. Nic Baker threw a clean game, with 248 yards and two touchdowns to his name. Those scores were both thrown to Avante Cox, as he and his twin brother D’Ante’ finished with 11 catches combined for 131 yards.

On the ground, the Salukis ran for 132 yards, splitting a majority of carries between Ro Elliott, who had the longest play of the night with a 42-yard rushing touchdown, and Strong, who scored SIU’s final go-ahead touchdown. Baker and Williams also saw action mixed in.

Williams in particular was a point of interest for his lack of touches early. By halftime, he had only two carries for one yard. Southern Illinois’s crowded running back room has seemed to make it difficult to work the All-MVFC player in.

“Javon’s a heck of a player,” Hill said. “He’s a great young man, and there’s no one out there that wants to get him the ball more than I do.”

Williams had more of a focus in the second half, seeing some action out of the Wildcat formation as well as lining up as a receiver. The latter put him in position for a crucial catch in SIU’s final drive to set them up in enemy territory.

“He made a heck of a play late,” Hill said. “This is the first time we’ve really put him at wide receiver… We script the first 15 plays of the game. That was on there early. Just the flow of the game never allowed that playcall to get called.”

The biggest sore spot for the Salukis so far this season is its defense. After letting up 64 points against Incarnate Word last week, it allowed 34 to SEMO. It has been particularly weak against the long pass, something both opponents took full advantage of. DeLaurent finished his day with 332 yards and four touchdown passes and had a completion streak of 16 straight passes that spanned nearly the entire first half.

“We’ve just given up way too many passing yards,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter if you give up too many rushing yards or too many passing yards. It’s about playing good team defense. We’ve got to get that fixed.”

Also notable is the team’s lack of turnover creation to this point. While the offense played a clean game this week, the defense has yet to get the ball back in either of its first two games.

“I don’t know if there’s probably a team out there in the country that has not created a turnover in the first two weeks. They’re probably 0-2,” Hill said.

The loss puts Southern Illinois, which came in as the No. 9 ranked team in the FCS, at an 0-2 record for the first time in the Nick Hill era. Having lost its home opener and biggest rivalry game of the season, it’s hard to see positives early in the year as the Salukis limp out of the gate.

“You don’t want to be 0-2, but that’s where we’re at,” Hill said. “We have to own that. There’s nothing that we can do. As a leader, you can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself, as much as sometimes that’s the human nature.”

The Salukis will travel to Evanston on Sept. 17 to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (1-1) of the Big Ten in their final non-conference game of the season. Their next home game will be the following Saturday as they host North Dakota in their first matchup of the Valley schedule.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.