Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Homecoming football historically lives up to the hype

Homecoming+football+historically+lives+up+to+the+hype

Homecoming, and the traditions that come with it, all center around one event: the football game. Over the last 20 years, the Salukis have put on entertaining shows for fans, playing in several thrillers, setting numerous records and having many standout performances.

SIU doesn’t often lose on Homecoming; they are 14-5 over the last 20 years (there was not a Homecoming game designated during the 2020-21 season), and only have one set of back-to-back losses, coming in 2013 and 2014.

The worst of the losses was by 21 points against North Dakota State in 2013. The Bison were ranked No. 1 in the country and went on to win the FCS National Championship.

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Homecoming lands right in the midst of the conference schedule, meaning the Dawgs often find themselves facing the same opponents across multiple years. They’ve played both Youngstown State and Indiana State four times, and have faced Illinois State and Northern Iowa each three times. Indiana State is the only team that holds a winning record over them in Homecoming games, though two of the losses were in one-score games (2016 and 2018).

 

Homecoming Comebacks and Big Wins 

The greatest win in the sampled time came under the guidance of coach Dale Lennon, who headed the Salukis from 2008-2015. In Lennon’s first Homecoming, the Salukis toppled the Sycamores of Indiana State 60-7 and piled up 50 points in the first half alone. Linebacker Kyle Walker, making his first career start, stuffed the statsheet with seven tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and another fumble returned for a touchdown. The starting quarterback, Chris Dieker, also caught a 36-yard trick play touchdown pass from receiver Matt Guinn. During the blowout win, 10 different Salukis put points on the board.

Head coach Jerry Kill was undefeated in Homecoming games during his time at SIU from 2001-07. The Salukis were consistently ranked nationally during this stretch, including in 2004 when they carried a No. 1 ranking into a showdown against longtime conference rival Northern Iowa.

Midway through the second quarter, Northern Iowa held a twenty point lead, but future Saluki Hall of Fame quarterback Joel Sambursky, receiver Quorey Payne and running back Chris Turner brought the Dawgs back. Payne had a 61-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter; Turner had a 58-yard punt return as well as a 71-yard touchdown; and Sambursky rushed for two touchdowns. The defense also intercepted UNI four times, including one on the 2-yard line as time expired that ultimately sealed the game and the win for SIU.

In 2005, the Dawgs came into Homecoming ranked No. 2 in the country in FCS. Kill’s team had to go into overtime to finish the job, but they performed when they got there. Sambursky found fullback J.T. Wise wide open on the second play of overtime, and Wise, making just his sixth career reception, scored the go-ahead touchdown.

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Missouri State advanced to the 1-yard line on its possession, but the SIU defense, who according to defensive tackle Mark Philipp had “diesels in the middle,” stuffed three straight runs on the way to a hard-earned victory.

Another hard-earned victory came in 2012, with SIU again facing rival Northern Iowa. The Salukis roared back from a 21-6 deficit, scoring 25 unanswered points, including a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Ken Boatright and a school-record 100-yard fumble return touchdown by Bryan Presume. UNI brought the score back within three, but SIU’s defense, which had five sacks on the day, needed only four downs to close out the game. It tallied sacks on the first two plays, and dashed UNI’s hopes with a fourth-down interception to cement the win.

 

No Place Like Homecoming

Crowds, especially while the team played in McAndrew Stadium, have shown up in droves to watch the Salukis during Homecoming. An average of 12,662 fans attended the Homecoming game while it was played in historic McAndrew, while an average of 9,929 have attended while the game has been held in Saluki Stadium, which hosted its first Homecoming in 2010.

The largest crowd in the past two decades came in 2006, which was future SIU head coach and then-quarterback Nick Hill’s homecoming debut as a player. Kill’s team, ranked No. 9 in the FCS, squared off against Western Illinois in front of a crowd of 13,721 roaring fans.

The fans weren’t left disappointed, either; running back Arkee Whitlock gashed the Leathernecks for a career-high 216 yards and three touchdowns, while receiver Braden Jones caught four balls for 55 yards and a touchdown. Arguably, Jones’ most impactful play of the day came via a blocked punt, which was SIU’s first of the season. The Salukis would go on to win the game 31-24.

 

Cool in Crunch Time

Along with overall success, SIU is unbeaten when Homecoming games went to overtime since the turn of the century. In 2010, the No. 21 Salukis beat No. 15 Northern Iowa 45-38 in the first Homecoming game at Saluki Stadium on a 7-yard touchdown from quarterback Chris Dieker to receiver Jeff Evans.

At the time, SIU had scored its thirteenth consecutive home MVFC win and ninth-straight homecoming win.

Dieker, making his third Homecoming start, threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns; 159 of those yards and both touchdowns went to Evans. Luke Thuston added a score defensively, taking a 36-yard interception to the house.

Another overtime win came over No. 16 Youngstown State in 2015. Mark Ionatti, making his second Homecoming start, led the top offense in the MVFC with 3 passing touchdowns and 275 yards. SIU overcame an 11-point deficit with only five minutes remaining, kicking a field goal to send the game to overtime.

Once there, Ionatti connected with Israel Lamprakes for a touchdown, whose only catch of the game proved to be the game-winner. On defense, the Salukis held strong inside the 10-yard line, stopping the Penguins on 4th and 2 to win the game. The comeback was made possible by Chase Allen’s blocked field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, which ensured SIU had a chance to tie it by the end of regulation.

 

Royal Resurgence

After a few relatively down seasons through the mid 2010s, SIU used Homecoming in 2019 to establish itself as a threat in the Valley once again. The Salukis pounded No. 18 Youngstown State 35-10 to earn their first victory against a ranked opponent in two years behind a historic performance from then-freshman Javon Williams Jr.

Williams became the first SIU player to run for, throw, and catch a TD all in the same game. Williams, who was recruited as a quarterback before transitioning to running back, ran for a seven-yard score, caught a 73-yard TD pass and threw a 41-yard touchdown to fullback Jacob Garrett. The defense stifled the Penguins and lived in the backfield, with eight sacks and 11 total tackles for loss.

The 2020 season was pushed back to spring of 2021, and while there was not a Homecoming game, SIU continued to reestablish itself as an FCS power. The Salukis beat three ranked opponents, including No. 1 North Dakota State at home, to continue its success at Saluki Stadium with or without the game designation.

Fans, in anticipation of a great season, returned in droves for the fall 2021 season. The Homecoming game against North Dakota marked the highest-grossing regular season gate in school history.

SIU, ranked No. 4 in the FCS, put on a show behind quarterback Nic Baker and receiver Izaiah Hartrup’s connection, as well as a dominant 217-yard rushing performance. While kicker Nico Gualdoni booted a career-long kick to give the Salukis a 31-28 lead, the game wasn’t over until the Fighting Hawks missed a field goal as time ran out.

In 2022, SIU, ranked No. 16 in the country, walloped Western Illinois 30-7 behind Williams Jr.’s four touchdown runs. Baker completed 89% of his passes and set the single-game completion percentage record, including 15 straight to start the game. The defense, ranked eighth nationally, allowed only 177 yards.

This year’s Homecoming game, which is set for October 21 at 2 p.m. at Saluki Stadium, the Salukis will attempt to stage an upset against the reigning FCS National Champions and current No. 1 team in the FCS, South Dakota State.

 

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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