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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Salukis smoke the Sycamores in regular season finale, await their playoff fates

Izaiah+Hartrup+%285%29+runs+with+the+ball+during+a+game+against+Indiana+State+Nov.+18%2C+2023+at+Saluki+Stadium+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+Hartrup+scored+two+touchdowns+and+tallied+125+receiving+yards+against+Indiana+State.
Enan Chediak
Izaiah Hartrup (5) runs with the ball during a game against Indiana State Nov. 18, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. Hartrup scored two touchdowns and tallied 125 receiving yards against Indiana State.

SIU football’s playoff resume is set, as the Salukis wrapped up a 7-4 season with their 38-9 win over Indiana State (1-10, 1-7 in MVFC) at Saluki Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

It was the team’s final regular season game, and likely its last game in Carbondale. The Salukis now await the results of Sunday’s selection show, where the FCS playoff bracket will be revealed in an 11:30 a.m. broadcast on ESPNU.

“We can beat anybody if we play well,” quarterback Nic Baker said. “That’s it.”

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Southern Illinois’s playoff chances hinge on how individual committee members view their season. While SIU has signature wins against Austin Peay – which qualified for the playoffs automatically by winning the United Athletic Conference – and Northern Illinois – an FBS team looking to reach a bowl game this season – it also struggled down the stretch with four losses in its final seven games.

However, those losses all came to playoff hopefuls, including close losses to South Dakota State and South Dakota, each projected to be a top-eight seed in the bracket. The Salukis also lost to perennial championship contender North Dakota State, and fellow 7-win team Youngstown State.

“You can go back and think about certain things, but that’s not gonna help anything,” Baker said. “We’re here in the now, and that’s what we’ve got to do. Obviously, you can look back, maybe we should have won this, won that, but it’s the way it is.”

The games SIU won during that stretch came against the bottom tier of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, including Saturday’s win over Indiana State. However, the gauntlet that is the MVFC ensures that teams with lower win totals might not necessarily be as bad as their record shows.

“Indiana State, I’ve said that all along, if they’re not playing in our conference, they’ve got a heck of a lot more than one win,” Hill said.

Saturday’s victory, the first win at home for SIU since Sept. 30, saw senior quarterback Nic Baker tie Saluki Hall of Famer Joel Sambursky for the most career passing touchdowns in school history (65). The touchdowns record was the last major record Baker could catch Sambursky for, fully cementing his legacy at Southern Illinois in what was potentially his final home game.

“I would say that’s a pretty good resume to probably have his picture out there at some point with the rest of those guys that he’s broken those records,” Hill said, referring to the Saluki Hall of Fame wall in the Banterra Center.

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While Baker’s three touchdowns stand out on the stat sheet, including two to receiver Izaiah Hartrup, the Saluki defense once again proved a dominant force on Saturday with three takeaways and several other impact plays.

Following the Salukis’ first touchdown – a Ro Elliott nine-yard rush – the SIU special teams unit recovered its own kickoff after Indiana State let the ball bounce around the 20-yard line. Baker immediately found Hartrup on the next offensive play for their first touchdown each as SIU put up 14 points in six in-game seconds.

“Our kickoff team, I would put up there with anybody in the country right now…” Hill said. “These guys just kinda have that momentum where they’re just playing harder than people… I think you can tell a lot about a team’s commitment and effort and how hard when you watch guys on coverage and special teams; this is just another rep that you’re just gonna try to get by, or you’re trying to make a difference in the game.”

Later, in the fourth quarter, a Dune Smith strip sack resulted in a Devin Cowan scoop-and-score to give the Saluki defense a touchdown of its own.

“It was a great play,” safety P.J. Jules said. “Big time players are gonna make big time plays in big time moments, and he made that play.”

Devin Cowan (2) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of a game against Indiana State Nov. 18, 2023, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.

The only points allowed by the SIU defense came from a Sycamore field goal on their first possession of the game. The rest of Indiana State’s points came from a fumble return touchdown of its own late in the game.

The Saluki seniors, including Baker, Cowan and Elliott, provided the Carbondale crowd with a game to remember on Senior Day, whether it is their final home game as Salukis, their final game overall, or just the beginning of what they hope to be a long playoff run.

“We don’t want this to be the end,” Baker said. “And I don’t think it is, honestly. I’ve got good hope and trust, and I think we’re a really good football team, and I think people see that.”

Bracketologists across the country have projected Southern Illinois to make the field of 24 as an at-large team, and potentially even host their first round matchup. The team itself is confident that the committee will consider its season worthy of playing in the postseason.

“I don’t think there’s any denying that if there’s 14 at-large teams, that we’re one of those 14 teams,” Hill said. “If they’re gonna go on trying to put the best field together, then we deserve to be in. I don’t think there’s any question with that.”

If the Salukis qualify for the playoffs, their first game will be on Nov. 25 with the site to be determined. Teams are paired up with regionalization in mind, so if Southern does not host, it will likely be sent to another school in the Midwest such as North Dakota or Drake.

The FCS playoff bracket reveal will air on ESPNU, and is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

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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