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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Coyote Ugly: Controversial finish plagues Salukis’ comeback effort

Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Travis Theis (5) of South Dakota hurdles over Saluki DJ Johnson (9) in the annual Blackout Cancer game Nov. 4, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.

Wide receiver D’Ante’ Cox made a catch with just 19 seconds left on the clock in a goal-to-go situation for his Salukis. Although he appeared at first to have landed in the end zone, the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass on what was Southern’s best chance to tie the game.

“We got that. They robbed us,” safety Ubayd Steed said. “We got that. I feel like we got that.”

Saluki football fell to 6-3 on the year after a 14-7 loss to the South Dakota Coyotes (7-2, 5-1) at home on Saturday. The loss is SIU’s third in five games, dropping to 3-3 in conference play.


Cox’s non-catch was ruled on the field to be an incomplete pass. A replay review spanned roughly three minutes, only to result in the call standing; not being confirmed or overturned. Typically, this means the video evidence was not strong enough to firmly rule one way or the other.

“I feel like I had possession,” Cox said. “The ball fell right back into my chest, and I just held onto it at that point.”

While there was no official explanation for the call, it was likely based on Cox potentially not having full control when he landed on the maroon turf; only fully controlling it once he had rolled out of bounds on the Saluki sideline.

“They didn’t say anything, really,” Cox said. “…It was a close one, but, a game of inches, so you can’t put it in the ref’s hands at that point I guess.”

D’Ante’ Cox (2) catches the ball in the end zone on the final drive of the game as he is defended by Myles Harden (1) of South Dakota Nov. 4, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

Replays shown inside the stadium were captured by the camera team responsible for the television broadcast of the game, and are not used in the official review. The angles shown on the video screen convinced both most in attendance that Cox had made the catch.

“He [Cox] was in,” head coach Nick Hill said. “I think they [the officials] saw it… We can’t see the angles they have. They can only use the four angles that they get.”

That play came on a 2nd-and-goal situation, meaning the Salukis still had two more shots at the end zone following the review. But the lengthy delay and associated momentum swing made the offense’s job more difficult when it came to those final snaps, having broken up the rhythm they established in the last two drives.


“Frustrating when they pause the game to review because they’ve seen something to overturn it, and then three times they stop the game, and then they just upheld what they reviewed,” Hill said. “Most of the time, those get overturned, because somebody had saw something to say it looks like we should overturn this.”

Quarterback Nic Baker overthrew his third-down pass, and on fourth down, the Coyotes batted his attempt up in the air and came away with an interception to seal their victory.

Both teams had been evenly matched for most of the afternoon. The Salukis outgained the Coyotes 332-196, but trailed ever since South Dakota broke into the end zone in the waning minutes of the first quarter.

“We’re playing winning defense,” Hill said. “Right now, we’re just not putting enough points on the board for a variety of reasons.”

The score remained 7-0 for more than 40 minutes of game time, before the Coyotes followed it up with another punch-in to push their lead to two possessions with just 6:44 left in the game.

However, the Saluki offense, which had struggled to that point, rallied to cut the lead in half, capped off with a Baker touchdown pass to Aidan Quinn in a drive that went 84 yards in just three and a half minutes.

The defense stood strong with a crucial three-and-out to give the Salukis one last chance for a game-tying drive. Despite marching 51 yards on a two-minute drill, the Cox non-catch halted the team’s momentum en route to a game-sealing turnover.

Southern did not force a turnover on Saturday, marking the first time all season that it could not give the offense a short field. The team only started past its own 30-yard-line twice, and never started in enemy territory. Combined with the continued struggles on offense, it made a tough hill to climb for the Salukis.

“That’s a major game-changer that we need,” Steed said. “And we always do that too. We at least get one, a fumble recovery or something. That was a major key.”

Baker took seven sacks during the game, and was forced to throw the ball away under pressure several times as well. His 16-for-35 completion rate marks the third-worst of his career as the starting quarterback.

“I think they [the Coyotes] were last in our conference as far as tackles for a loss,” Hill said. “They definitely jumped up today as far as sacks and things go.”

That production is very similar to the Salukis’ Oct. 7 loss against Youngstown State, where Baker also took seven sacks and completed just 12 of his 27 pass attempts. The biggest difference was that the defense kept the team in Saturday’s game until the very end, unlike their 31-3 blowout loss to the Penguins.

The Saluki offense has been the biggest issue in the team’s conference schedule. It has scored just 20 points combined in the team’s three losses, compared to 123 points scored in its three Valley victories.

Saturday’s game served as the 13th annual Blackout Cancer Game, raising money for the Coach Kill Cancer Fund. As part of the event, fans could bid to have their name on the back of a Saluki jersey during the game.

At halftime, it was announced that $24,000 had been raised for the fund. After the game, players handed off their game-worn jerseys to their respective donors.

During Hill’s Monday morning press conference, he mentioned the character-building moment of his players returning to the field even after a heartbreaking loss.

“It’s hard to get yourself back and know that there’s someone waiting for you out on the field that doesn’t expect you to be down, but they expect you to have a smile and take a picture and greet them,” Hill said. “It really just teaches a lot about life for your team.”

Southern will hit the road next week, facing perennial title contenders North Dakota State (6-3, 3-3) in a matchup with major playoff implications. Both teams entered Saturday on the edge of the top 10 in the FCS, but both suffered ranked losses; SIU losing to No. 9/12 South Dakota, and NDSU losing to No. 1 South Dakota State.

PJ Jules (4) wears the name ‘Smith’ on the back of his jersey for the annual Blackout Cancer game Nov. 4, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. Saluki fans had a chance to bid for a specialized name on jerseys to raise money for the Coach Kill Cancer Fund. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

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.


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