SIU takes Redbirds out one-on-one

By Gus Bode

Winning one-on-one battles was what drove the SIU football team to a win Saturday.

Senior wide receivers Justin Allen and Phil Goforth both caught touchdown passes in one-on-one coverage against Illinois State, helping the No. 5 Salukis drop the Redbirds, 34-24.

“We’ve been going a lot of one-on-one coverage all week,” Goforth said. “They just tell us to compose yourself and go up and get the ball, because it’s our ball or no ball.”


Goforth led SIU (9-1, 5-1 Gateway) with six receptions for 64 yards against the Redbirds, including his touchdown catch with seven seconds to go in the first half.

With Illinois State (4-7, 2-4) leading 9-7, SIU began the drive at its own 36-yard line with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the half. Goforth caught a 33-yard pass on the drive, and the Salukis made their way to the Redbirds’ 3-yard line.

On third-and-goal, SIU senior quarterback Nick Hill threw the ball short of Goforth, but pass interference was called on Illinois State, giving the Salukis a fresh set of downs but not a lot of time on the clock.

But on the next play, Hill threw a pass to the back left corner of the end zone, and Goforth jumped up for it and landed in bounds, shuffling his feet to ensure the touchdown.

Redbirds coach Denver Johnson said Goforth’s touchdown was the turning point of the game, as SIU took its first lead of the game just before halftime.

Hill said the play call – with Hill taking a one-step drop and Goforth running a fade – is typically a low-percentage play, and showed that the coaching staff trusts the offense.

HIll added that Goforth made an impressive jumping catch.


“He’s a good basketball player,” Hill said. “I’ve been in the Rec with him before. He can play above the rim.”

The SIU receivers also held on to tough catches throughout the game, bringing the ball in despite getting hit by the defenders. Hill said having trust in his receivers goes a long way in capitalizing on the one-on-one battles.

“Playing (defensive back) is probably the hardest place on the field,” Hill said. “I mean, you’re out there on an island. You don’t know when the ball’s getting thrown. You don’t know where the ball’s at most of the time. We’ve got to take advantage of that as much as we can.”

With 9:50 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Allen caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hill with a defender getting no help from the safety in one-on-one coverage.

The Salukis lined up in a formation that featured junior left guard Aaron Lockwood lined up in the backfield behind Hill and in front of sophomore fullback Rick Burgess.

SIU used this formation to wear down Illinois State with the run, and it opened up Hill’s last two touchdown passes – the pass to Allen, and before that to a wide-open Burgess.

Coach Jerry Kill said he wished the Salukis would have taken advantage of the formation more than they did, as the Redbirds would line up with 10 players in the box to stop the run.

“When we get in that heavy set, they’re thinking run, and instead of running the ball, we threw the ball and that’s why we had people wide open,” Kill said. “But we did a good job mixing it up and was able to come away with some good points.”

The Salukis’ success running the ball helped open up the touchdown passes, as SIU totaled 259 rushing yards in the game.

Junior running back Larry Warner led the way with 92, averaging 13.1 yards per carry on the day and slipping out of numerous tackles. John Randle, a senior, added 85 rushing yards.

Illinois State senior quarterback Luke Drone began the day as the Gateway Football Conference leader with 18 touchdown passes, but Hill now leads the Gateway with 20.

Drone threw two interceptions, both to Saluki junior safety Clayton Johnson.

Johnson read Drone to jump the route and make the first interception, which he returned 36 yards to the Salukis’ 47-yard line. A personal foul penalty on the Redbirds brought the ball up an extra 15 yards, and led to Allen’s touchdown reception that put SIU ahead 31-9, its biggest lead of the game.

The second interception was a badly overthrown ball by Drone, and Johnson didn’t have to win a one-on-battle, but rather make the easy pick – which he said he doesn’t like as much as making difficult interceptions.

“When you’re open, you really don’t catch balls like that because you think it’s so easy,” Johnson said. “So I don’t really like them that much. I’d rather catch hard balls.”

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