SIU football misses opportunities

By Gus Bode

A season laced with awe-inspiring finishes and jaw-dropping precision came to an early close Saturday because of several uncharacteristic plays.

The SIU football team ended its best season since 1983 four points short of a national title shot, losing to Delaware 20-17. Coach Jerry Kill said the difference between the defeat and the potential for a championship came down to just a few poorly executed plays.

“There’s always six or seven plays in a football game that’s the difference in the game. That’s why you’ve got to play every one of them hard. Because if you don’t, you get beat,” Kill said.

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Most of the lost opportunities came in the form of untimely penalties and previously unseen miscues in the kicking game – both areas in which the Salukis (12-2) thrived throughout the season.

Though SIU’s nine penalties cost it fewer yards than Delaware’s eight, the scores those penalties negated was the difference in the game.

Two touchdowns and one long pass that brought SIU two yards from another score were brought back because of penalties that had little to do with execution. The team came away from all three of those drives without putting the ball in the end zone.

Additional points were kept off the board because of mistakes in the kicking game. Freshman kicker Kyle Dougherty missed a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and didn’t get a chance to kick one earlier in the contest because of a fumbled hold.

Kill said failure to execute in the kicking game could have come down to the field conditions, which featured heavy mist and wet turf through most of the contest.

But Kill said he is not one to offer excuses, and the Blue Hens executed amid similar circumstances.

“We left some points out on the field in the kicking game, and you look at it and it’s the difference in the game,” Kill said.

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Ultimately, the Salukis failed to come through where they had all season, as they knocked on the door of their opponent’s end zone. The team mustered only two scores, one rushing touchdown and one first-quarter field goal, in four trips within 20 yards of a touchdown.

Senior quarterback Nick Hill had his worst game statistically of the season with a less than 50 percent completion percentage and two interceptions. The only other time Hill threw more than one interception was in the Salukis’ other loss against Northern Iowa.

Hill said the Delaware defense buckled down in the red zone and the SIU offense failed to execute against the pressure.

“A couple penalties hurt us and took us out of a good down and distances. A couple times that we did get it in the end zone it got called back,” Hill said. “Just little things that we didn’t make the plays we needed to.”

Kill, who capped his best season as a head coach with the loss, noted the team failed to capitalize exactly where it excelled in the past, during the pressure situations with the game on the line.

Kill summed up the contest as “a great life lesson.”

“Some days in life … no matter how hard you work and how hard you push through, it doesn’t go your way,” Kill said. “But like I told our kids, we’ll find out what kind of people we are and what kind of football team we really have is how we handle this thing.”

Sean McGahan can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]

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