Football two wins away from title

By Gus Bode

It has all come together for the SIU football team this season.

The Salukis (12-1) are playing Delaware at 3 p.m. at McAndrew Stadium in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Saturday because they’ve all bought in and take pride in their roles, big or small, SIU quarterback Nick Hill said.

“You look at all the successful teams that win championships, they have those type of players that don’t get a lot of recognition but are a huge part in the locker room,” Hill said. “They might not even play, but they’re big in the locker room and they come up big on the field.”

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One of those players is sophomore tight end Byron Gettis, and his only touchdown and two of his eight receptions this season came in SIU’s 34-27 quarterfinal win over Massachusetts.

SIU senior running back John Randle said every Saluki is unselfish, and Hill does a good job of spreading the ball around to get everyone involved.

Kill said he expects Delaware (10-3) to stack the box at the start and make Hill throw the ball. If the passing game is successful, SIU will run the ball.

Randle, who has rushed for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, said the Salukis have added some things to their game plan that other teams have had success with while running on Delaware.

The Blue Hens allow 162.7 rushing yards per game, eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association, though Randle said he isn’t sure why Delaware allows opponents so many yards on the ground.

“They come down with wins, and that’s the main thing for them. That’s what was scary about them,” Randle said. “People get yards rushing on them, but they don’t put it in the end zone.”

Hill said the Salukis’ goal is to get touchdowns when they get into the red zone, and keep their defense off the field.

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The Blue Hens average a conference-best 38.6 points per game and 467.2 yards per game, led by senior quarterback Joe Flacco, who Kill said will be a first-day pick in the spring’s NFL Draft.

Flacco has thrown for 3,686 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, while Delaware senior running back Omar Cuff has rushed for 1,759 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.

SIU junior safety Clayton Johnson said the key for the Salukis will be the defensive line getting pressure on Flacco.

If not, he can beat SIU’s coverages, he said.

Johnson, who leads the Salukis with four interceptions, said there’s added competition with a quarterback like Flacco dropping back to pass.

“If you step up and play your game and play your coverage, and you can pick off his balls, that means you can do anything against anybody,” Johnson said.

SIU sophomore linebacker Chauncey Mixon will be playing with a cast on his hand, after he broke it on the kickoff to begin the second half against Massachusetts.

He said the only difference will be having to make more secure tackles, and he hasn’t had problems catching balls with the cast on.

Senior defensive end Devon Reese is another player banged up, Hill said, but he was back at practice the first day even though Hill thought he might not practice this week.

Hill said Reese didn’t complain.

Kill said this SIU team has been fun to coach.

“I think when you get a group together and everybody’s going towards one direction, it’s a special thing, and I’m very privileged to be a part of that at this point in time,” Kill said.

Scott Mieszala can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected]

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