Salukis win big in Valley opener over North Dakota


Carson VanBuskirk | @carsonvanbDE

Javon Williams Jr., of Centralia, runs past a defender on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, at the SIU vs. North Dakota State Football game in Carbondale.

Southern Illinois carried its momentum from last week’s historic win over Northwestern into the Valley schedule, as the No. 24 Salukis (2-2, 1-0) grounded the No. 19 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (2-2, 0-1) at Saluki Stadium 34-17 on Saturday afternoon.

The Saluki offense put on a clinic in front of the home fans. It reached at least the North Dakota 30-yard-line on every posession, and came away with points on all but two drives on Saturday. Most notably, Southern Illinois converted eight of its first 10 third down attempts. The ability to extend drives and avoid punting was key in a game that didn’t feature any turnovers.

“From start to finish, just really executing what they were called to do,” head coach Nick Hill said. “And just playing clean football. That’s been the message in practice and team meetings.”


Nic Baker, last week’s MVFC Player of the Week, followed up his performance with an excellent game throught the air. He finished with 289 yards and four touchdown passes. Two of those went to Jacob Garrett, made it four scores in two games following his career day against Northwestern.

“It definitely feels good to contribute in that fashion,” Garrett said. “I used to live with Bake back in the day, a couple years ago, so I always told him I had it in me.”

Meanwhile, the defense pitched shutouts in the first and third quarters, helping separate the teams as the offense continued to produce. The pass rush dominated the line of scrimmage with seven sacks and several other hurried throws by North Dakota quarterback Tommy Schuster.

“I think we came together,” Richie Hagarty, who had two of SIU’s sacks, said. “The first few games, I don’t think we were really playing together… We kinda realized, hey, we need to come together as a unit, and become one.”

The Cox twins continued their successful senior campaigns. Avante Cox led the way with 7 catches for 90 yards, while D’Ante’ Cox had 4 catches for 88 yards. Both caught a touchdown pass in the win.

Ro Elliott led the charge on the ground, gaining 62 yards on 16 attempts. Fellow runningbacks Justin Strong (nine carries) and Javon Williams Jr. (seven carries) each racked up 38 yards.

While the Salukis had an efficient running game, the Fighting Hawks had the polar opposite. They totalled just 38 rushing yards, which includes 48 yards lost on sacks. SIU also did not allow a 100-yard receiver for the second straight week after allowing four such performances in its first two games.


“We know in the Missouri Valley Conference, they want to run the ball down your throat,” Hagarty said. “Limiting them to the side passes that they had to do, and then the shots that they’re not really used to… limiting them to that amount of rushing yards is really good for our defense.”

Last week’s win was one for the history books, but Saturday was just as important for the Salukis. Not only did they move back up to .500, but they started the Valley schedule off on the right foot.

“This win feels just the same as the Northwestern win,” Avante Cox said. “Being 1-0 in the conference is all we were shooting for. To win the Missouri Valley is what we want to do.”

Saluki football will hit the road in back-to-back weeks, starting next Saturday against Illinois State (2-1) and the following week against Missouri State (2-2, 0-1), before returning to Saluki Stadium on Oct. 15.

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.