South Dakota snaps Southern’s five-game winning streak

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Angel Chevrestt | @sobrofotos

Saluki tight end Levi Mitchell gets past Panthers defender Eric Mooney to make a catch during the Saluki’s 17-16 win at Saluki stadium on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

Saluki football’s bid at an unbeaten conference season is over, as SIU was upset on the road by South Dakota 27-24 on Saturday. Southern fell to 5-3 (4-1) with the loss.

South Dakota came into the game just 1-5, and 0-3 in conference play. Three of their five losses came to teams that were ranked in the top three in the FCS, and another came against Kansas State, an FBS school. Their record was indicative of a difficult schedule more than their ability, as evidenced by their win on Saturday.

“Every single team on our schedule can beat us, and we can beat all the teams on our schedule as well,” head coach Nick Hill said. “You can’t look at records, you can’t look at anything. Teams get better. Schemes get better.”

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The Salukis started off strong, outgaining the Coyotes 172-18 in the first quarter. Their only blemish was a fumble that set up South Dakota near the end zone, where they would score on the next play. However, this turnover and subsequent touchdown would be crucial in keeping South Dakota in the game.

Heading into halftime with a 21-10 lead, it seemed like Southern was in position to extend its five-game win streak. The Coyotes scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, and SIU responded with a field goal. That would be the last time they scored, as they finished the game with five empty possessions.

“We just couldn’t get any life going in the second half,” Hill said. “They completely outplayed us.”

Two back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter saw the Salukis lose six combined yards on six plays. The latter drive started near midfield in what was at that point a tie game.

Facing 4th-and-6 from the South Dakota 42 with five minutes left, Nic Baker threw an interception, his first since the Northwestern game in week 3. The Coyotes drove into field goal range, kicking the game-winner from 44 yards out.

South Dakota’s strength was its run game. It had two 100-yard rushers, the first time the Salukis allowed that since March 20, 2021 (25 games). This was uncharacteristic for a Southern defense that typically handled the rushing attack well.

“I think they schemed us well…” defensive end Richie Hagarty said. “Overall, I think we just need to be a more physical team, because we’ve out-physicalled teams and kinda just made them force the pass.”

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Baker was far less efficient this week than in recent outings. His 28-for-43 passing was only good for 190 yards. While he still threw two touchdown passes, he also tallied his third interception of the season.

Ro Elliott carried the ball 16 times for 100 yards, nearing his season-high of 103 against Incarnate Word.

D’Ante’ Cox and Bryce Miller led the team with seven receptions each. Cox had 70 yards through the air, while Miller caught for 36 yards and a touchdown. Miller also comitted the pivotal first-quarter fumble, which was only the second of the season for SIU.

Also catching a touchdown was Avante Cox, who returned to the starting lineup after suffering an injury during last week’s game against Western Illinois. He extended his school record of consecutive games with a catch to 40.

The Salukis will return to Carbondale next week to face Northern Iowa (4-4, 3-2) on Oct. 29. The Panthers defeated Missouri State on Saturday. Southern will receive a bye week after their game against Northern Iowa.

“Our schedule doesn’t get any easier,” Hill said. “Every team that we’re playing the rest of the way out beat us last year.”

Southern’s five-game winning streak was tied for the longest in the Nick Hill era, with the feat being accomplished in 2019 and 2021 as well. The last time the Salukis won more than five games in a row was in 2009, when they won 11 straight including an 8-0 record in MVFC play.

With the loss, SIU fell to second place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They hold a half-game lead over North Dakota State, who they will play on Nov. 12, and Illinois State, who Southern beat on Oct. 1.

“We’re gonna keep moving forward no matter what happens,” Hagarty said. “We’ve been through adversity. First two games we took a beating, so we understand how to come back from this.”

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen.

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