Playmakers pace SIU past Pirates

By Gus Bode

When the SIU offense struggled during the preseason, there was a cause for concern.

But 37 points and 416 total offensive yards later, the Salukis silenced their critics and found an identity that boasts multiple threats from a variety of positions.

The SIU offense, which struggled to find consistency during its preseason scrimmages, scored in a variety of ways and kept the Hampton defense on its toes throughout SIU’s 37-31 victory Saturday.


Sophomore quarterback Chris Dieker propelled SIU’s passing offense with three passing touchdowns and found eight different receivers while throwing for 216 yards.

Dieker, making his first collegiate start, said he was nervous before the first snap, but saw the first-start butterflies leave after he put the offense on the board with a 21-yard loft to senior wide receiver Damian Sherman just 5 1/2 minutes into the first quarter.

“After the first series, I started to feel real comfortable,” Dieker said. “I got all the nerves out of me when I got the first couple of snaps out of the way. After that, it felt like it was my team.”

Sherman was just one of many options that helped SIU earn more than 400 yards of total offense.

Dieker connected again with Sherman on a two-yard touchdown toss on a fade pattern before striking for a third score, this time a 27-yard completion to Jeff Evans with 10 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the first half.

When Dieker wasn’t moving the ball through the air, senior running back Larry Warner was moving the chains with contributions in the ground game.

Warner, who rushed for 151 yards, accounted for a bulk of the Salukis’ yardage because of a leg injury sustained on a kick return by sophomore running back Richard White in the second quarter. Warner, who recorded more than 300 yards of total offense, said he felt the need to make plays in his teammate’s absence.


“I feel I should step up and make a big play because I have the ability,” Warner said. “That’s my responsibility to help my team when they’re down.”

Warner’s biggest contributions indeed seemed to come when the Salukis were in a funk. After Hampton scored a touchdown to cut SIU’s lead to 20-10, Warner responded immediately with a 95-yard kickoff return to make the score 27-10.

Warner totaled 314 yards on the game and said he would do anything that would help the team come out with a win, whether it was on offense or as a contributor on special teams.

Hampton scored two touchdowns to open the third quarter and rallied to make the score 27-24 headed into the fourth quarter. That’s when Warner unleashed his big play ability once again.

After SIU running back Lucien Walker converted on its second fourth down attempt of the game, Warner raced around the right side of the offensive line and down the field for a 20-yard touchdown run to give the Salukis a 34-24 lead with 12:23 remaining in the game.

Head coach Dale Lennon said Warner is a coach’s dream because of his hard work and ability to make plays at any time and in different facets of the game.

Lennon, who picked up his first career victory as SIU head coach thanks in part to the playmakers on an offense that was much maligned at time during the preseason, said the offense performed well despite sputtering at times.

“Offensively it’s always a process of development,” Lennon said. “But it’s about how they respond in certain situations, like when it counts, and that’s how you know you’re getting better.”

Luis C. Medina can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected].