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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Dawgs dominate in first playoff game at Saluki Stadium

Salukis will play at Idaho at 9 p.m. on Dec. 2
Saluki+football+celebrate+their+win+as+they+shut+out+Nicholls+to+advance+to+round+two+of+FCS+playoffs+Nov.+25%2C+2023+at+Saluki+Stadium+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+
Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Saluki football celebrate their win as they shut out Nicholls to advance to round two of FCS playoffs Nov. 25, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.

If there were any doubts that Southern Illinois belonged in the FCS playoffs, they were silenced on Saturday.

The Salukis hosted their first playoff game since 2009, and first in the history of Saluki Stadium, and treated their fans to a 35-0 beatdown of the Nicholls Colonels of the Southland Conference.

Southern will travel to play the No. 4 Idaho Vandals (8-3) next week. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Dec. 2.

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“When I got this job, you have a vision of playing a lot of playoff games in that place,” head coach Nick Hill said. “I was here whenever that was just a vision of building a new football stadium. I played in the old one. It’s been a goal of ours as the program to play one.”

Saturday marked the first shutout by Southern Illinois in its postseason history, and the second time the Salukis have accomplished that feat this season.

The Saluki defense shined just as it has all year. It racked up three turnovers, including interceptions from D.J. Johnson and Brandon Combs. The team also prevented Nicholls from scoring on two red zone trips, with fourth-down stops on both drives.

“The defense, I can’t say enough about everyone,” Hill said. “We could go down, from top to bottom, coach [defensive coordinator Antonio] James has those guys ready to play along with the other staff.”

Nicholls was held to under 100 rushing yards, and its starting quarterback threw for just 127 passing yards.

On the other side, Southern committed just two penalties throughout the entire game, showing poise despite the playoff environment.

“We knew that it was gonna get a little bit chippy, just some of the things that we’d seen on film…” Hill said. “Staying away from that, having two penalties in the game, I felt like it was really a team win.”

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Quarterback Nic Baker took sole possession of the all-time school record for passing touchdowns with a first-quarter pass to Aidan Quinn. It was the first of two touchdowns Baker tallied on the day in his third career playoff game.

Jacob Caughell (63) snaps the ball to Nic Baker (8) as the Salukis approach the end zone Nov. 25, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

“It hadn’t set in yet, but it’s something to look back on and be proud of,” Baker said. “It’s super cool having the first playoff game in this stadium and getting it done.”

Ro Elliott got into the end zone twice and racked up 111 yards on Saturday, with the majority coming on a 60-yard breakaway touchdown to start the second half.

Romeir Elliott (1) falls just over the line to bring in the first touchdown of the game for Southern Illinois Nov. 25, 2023 at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

“Romeir, when healthy, he’s really good,” Hill said. “And he’s played a lot of football for us, and so it was fun to see him get loose and make a big impact on the game.”

The Salukis will face a tough test next week against Idaho, which finished second in the Big Sky Conference. The Big Sky is generally considered to be near the Valley in terms of competitiveness on the national level.

“How you recruit, how you build your team to win this conference is really, you’ve got to build a team that’s good enough to win the National Championship, or you’re not gonna have any success in this league,” Hill said.

Idaho’s three losses include a close finish against No. 2 Montana and a two-score loss to California of the Pac-12. The Vandals also suffered an upset on Nov. 11 against Weber State.

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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