Dune Smith (8) leads the Salukis on to the field at the start of the game for the homecoming matchup against South Dakota State Oct. 21, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.
Dune Smith (8) leads the Salukis on to the field at the start of the game for the homecoming matchup against South Dakota State Oct. 21, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.
Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto

Salukis fold to Jacks; Southern falls 17-10 in Homecoming game

As Saluki Stadium welcomed nearly 12,000 fans for Homecoming weekend, the Saluki football team fell short of a comeback effort against the No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits. SIU lost 17-10, and dropped to 5-2, 2-2 on the season.

Despite the odds going against SIU, the team felt it was ready to compete on Saturday, and even possibly come away with an upset.

“There’s not a moral victory,” head coach Nick Hill said. “Our guys definitely expected and believed to win the game.”


The Saluki defense held strong for much of the game, limiting the unbeaten Jackrabbits to their lowest point total of the year. SDSU had previously scored at least 40 points in every game except for one: a matchup against No. 2 Montana State.

Notably, Southern ended the Jackrabbits’ red zone scoring streak with a fourth-quarter interception by Mark Davis Jr. in the end zone. South Dakota State had scored on its last 70 consecutive red zone drives dating back to October 2022.

“I felt like our defense just played their hearts out, and they have all season,” Hill said. “They competed, gave us a shot.”

However, the Jackrabbits played just as tough on defense. It forced two turnovers from Saluki quarterback Nic Baker: an interception and a fumble.

Both teams held each other scoreless in the first quarter. The only promising drive came at the beginning of the game; Southern converted on a fake punt to move the chains, but got stuffed on a 4th-and-short attempt later on at the edge of the red zone.

The Jackrabbits broke through after a series of mistakes by Baker gave them good field position. Baker was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a long run, and threw his lone interception on the next play, which was returned deep inside Saluki territory. SDSU would convert that chance into a 7-0 lead, which it took into halftime.

“It’s gonna be hard watching that film, seeing that there was opportunities to be had,” Baker said.


South Dakota State came out swinging to start second half, scoring on just three plays capped off by a 49-yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski to Griffin Wilde to stretch its lead to 14-0.

“I just told the defense, I told DJ [Johnson], just keep your head up, man,” linebacker Dune Smith said. “That’s gonna happen, that’s football… Next play mentality, that’s all I try to preach to my defense.”

After Davis’s interception to start the fourth quarter, the Salukis started to mount a rally. Baker twice found wide receiver D’Ante’ Cox deep for huge gains, and got onto the board with a 24-yard touchdown to pull the Salukis within one score with just under 12 minutes to go.

“That pick was nuts, man,” Baker said. “That’s a really good tight end that he [Davis] made that play on, and gave us a chance again. Our defense just keeps giving us chances.” 

Southern needed a stop in order to give the offense a chance to tie, something that the defense had been reliable for all afternoon. However, the Jackrabbits instead kept the ball for nine minutes of game clock, mounting a 15-play, 60-yard drive that ended in a field goal.

A pivotal moment in that drive came early on, when Gronowski scrambled for the first down on a 3rd-and-8 situation when the Salukis had a chance to force a punt. Instead, Gronowski kept the Jackrabbits on the field for what would be the game-deciding drive.

“We have to get off the field on third down,” Smith said. “This week coming up, that probably will be one of our main emphases; and tackling better.”

Even though the Salukis had held SDSU to three points on that drive, it was just enough to put the No. 1 team over the edge. Southern would respond with a field goal of its own, but wouldn’t get the ball back again to go for the tying score.

“The effort and the way that these guys played is what you want out of a group,” Hill said. “Just came up short.”

While the result is disappointing for a team that is No. 12 in its own right, the Salukis will build from this close loss as it moves forward in a relentless Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule.

“I think our guys know that we have a really good football team,” Hill said. “And we’ve got to find a way to use that.”

Southern will hit the road next week to face the winless Western Illinois Leathernecks on Oct. 28, before returning home to host the No. 6/16 South Dakota Coyotes on Nov. 4.

Sports editor 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.


Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Daily Egyptian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *