SIU football wins fifth straight behind record performances
October 21, 2022
Saluki football celebrated Homecoming weekend by taking care of business at home, as it moved to 5-2, 4-0 with a win over the Western Illinois Leathernecks (0-6, 0-3) by a score of 30-7. In doing so, three of its top offensive players tied or broke records on the day.
Javon Williams Jr. punched in all four of Southern’s touchdowns on Saturday, tying the record for the most rushing touchdowns in a game at Saluki Stadium with 4. Williams tied Matt DeSomer, who achieved the feat in November 2018 against South Dakota State.
“Javon’s a special talent. I think anybody would tell you that,” head coach Nick Hill said. “He’s pretty natural at doing things. And then I think his attitude has been outstanding this year.”
Williams received the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week honor – the fourth of his career – last week with two touchdowns scored against Missouri State. In the team’s return to Carbondale, the Centralia-native doubled that award-winning output.
“He asked me the other week, he was like ‘Have you ever met somebody that could throw the ball, run the ball and catch the ball?’” starting quarterback Nic Baker said. “I was like, ‘yeah, me.’”
Baker turned in another efficient day with 25-for-27 passing and 227 yards through the air. His completion percentage of 92.6% broke Saluki Hall of Famer Joel Sambursky’s school record set back in 2004, when he threw 12-for-13 against Indiana State.
“It’s cliche, but I mean, we’re just winning. That’s all I really care about. That’s all that really matters,” Baker said. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about that stuff a little bit. It means something to you, just to see your name with other names that are recognized at this place.”
Baker’s first target and competition of the day went to Avante Cox, who officially broke the school record for most consecutive games with a catch. Cox’s first-quarter catch pushed him to 39 straight, breaking a tie with Saluki Hall of Famer Cornell Craig.
Although he did not break any records on Saturday, running back Ro Elliott had a great performance as well, racking up 130 all-purpose yards; 66 on the ground and 64 through the air.
Southern’s defense came to play as well. Through the first three quarters, Western Illinois gained only 66 yards on 32 plays. It held the passing game to 13-for-35, just a 37% completion percentage. Western’s leading rusher had only 15 net yards.
“You just can’t say enough about all levels of the defense,” Hill said. “…If you’re gonna play well in football, this game is the ultimate team game. Really, you played well because somebody else is doing their job.”
However, it wasn’t always sunny for the Salukis. The defense had a sloppy drive at the end of the first half to allow the Leathernecks to avoid a shutout. Later in the game, Williams fumbled a goal line attempt at a fifth rushing touchdown, marking the team’s first fumble of the year.
“I wish we would have finished that drive off, not turned the ball over,” Hill said. “That’s our first fumble of the year… but could be a good wakeup call.”
Partway through the game, Avante Cox appeared to injure his ankle, and immediately left the game. Hill said after the game that the injury doesn’t seem to be serious, and that Cox should not miss extended time.
“We’ll find out more tomorrow,” Hill said. “I think Avante will be good… It’s not a serious injury. Probably gonna be pretty sore here for a couple games, but if we know Avante, he’s pretty tough and resilient, and comes back from things.”
Avante’s twin brother D’Ante’ Cox knows plenty about missing games for injury. D’Ante’ only played one game in the past two years due to injury, but has been able to play alongside his twin this season.
“Obviously it was a thought throughout the game,” D’Ante’ Cox said. “He’s strong, so he’ll be fine I think… I missed plenty of games, so knowing that he’s not gonna miss too many opportunities like I’ve done.”
Facing a winless team, the No. 16 ranked Salukis were expected to take care of business and defend their home field. Despite their opponent being seemingly overmatched from the opening kick, the Salukis won’t take any win, especially in the Missouri Valley, for granted.
“We came into this game preparing like we did against Northwestern,” Hill said. “That’s the honest truth. To do your job at a high level, play at a high level, good teams do that.”
With the win, Southern Illinois will stay tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings at 4-0. The two teams they entered the week tied with – North Dakota State and South Dakota State – played each other on Saturday, with SDSU taking a 23-21 victory. The Salukis do not play the Jackrabbits this season, so the best they can guarantee is a share of the conference title if they win out. With four games remaining on the Valley schedule, that’s still easier said than done.
The Salukis will travel to Vermillion, South Dakota next week to face the South Dakota Coyotes (1-5, 0-3). Their next home game will be on Oct. 29, when Northern Iowa (3-4, 2-2) comes to Carbondale.
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.