Dj vu:salukis take page out of UNI’s book, avenge last season’s heartbreak loss

By Gus Bode

Safety Marlon Heaston did not have to move an inch to catch the ball, seal the game and lay the ghosts of Northern Iowa to rest.

Freshman quarterback Eric Sanders, who replaced Northern Iowa star Tom Petrie after he suffered a fractured collarbone in the fourth quarter, floated a wobbly pass to the middle of the field and handed the game to the Salukis on a silver platter.

Heaston grabbed the ball with ease as SIU won 40-36, avenged last year’s 43-40 loss to UNI and won a dramatic game that could have easily gone the other way.


“I just read the route he was running, and made a play on the ball,” Heaston said, understating a play that likely saved SIU’s shot at a few home playoff games, its status as I-AA’s best football team and gave a bizarre and complicated game a simple and happy ending.

As the beneficiaries of some luck and four touchdown plays of more than 50 yards, SIU won what head coach Jerry Kill called the weirdest game he had ever coached.

“It’s amazing to make some of the mistakes we did and still win the game,” Kill said.

The Salukis (4-1), simply put, did not look like the Salukis on Saturday. SIU fumbled the ball four times, threw an interception for a defensive touchdown, fell behind 20-0, executed a few plays horribly and committed several mental mistakes.

Most of the miscues were by seniors, and it ended up being big plays from junior Quorey Payne (two touchdown receptions of 69 and 61 yards) and freshman Craig Turner (58-yard punt return, 71-yard touchdown run) that bailed the Salukis out.

Senior safety Alexis Moreland, because the team was not playing a prevent defense with 18 seconds left in the first half and the Panthers’ 48 yards from the goal line, was beaten on a long bomb from Petrie.

Moreland called the play bad technique on his part, but the lack of a prevent defense was one of a few unusual moves from the SIU coaching staff.


SIU battering ram Brandon Jacobs did not line up at tailback until the second half and was not used during short yardage situations.

Even on a crucial fourth and one, the 260-pound Jacobs stayed on the bench as Arkee Whitlock ran into a wall of defenders and turned the ball over on downs.

Kill thought Whitlock was running better at the time, stood by his play calling and insisted Jacobs was not in any kind of trouble.

“We didn’t intentionally not play him,” Kill said. “He’s not in any kind of trouble or anything like that. It was just the way the game went.”

After a disastrous first half, the Salukis ended up losing the game – on paper, at least. Northern Iowa (1-3) dominated in most ball control categories, including time of possession (33:31 to 26:29), first downs (22 to 11) and total plays (81-54).

The Panthers have now played a grueling schedule including games against a Division I-A opponent and two I-AA top 10 teams, but will likely need to run the table to make the playoffs.

“They’re the best 1-3 team in America, I can promise you that,” Kill said.

SIU’s defense was on the field for a long time but managed to intercept four balls, three from Petrie. Maybe it was SIU’s homecoming mojo, because Petrie had thrown no interceptions in three games prior to Saturday, and finished with an uncharacteristic 187 yards passing.

His injury with just less than 10 minutes to go, caused by a Mark Philipp hit, was the deathblow to Northern Iowa’s upset bid.

Sanders racked up a decent amount of yardage through a porous prevent defense in relief of Petrie, but was only 5-of-13 and was obviously rattled as the Salukis kicked up the pressure.

His happy feet in the pocket cost the Panthers dearly when his heel brushed the back of the endzone, causing a safety, increasing SIU’s lead from two to four, and eliminating the option of a field goal in the closing minutes.

Instead, he threw an interception as time expired on what could have been a 37-yard field goal to win the game. Heaston grabbed the ball, fell to the ground and dodged a bullet.

“The good Lord blessed us today, and our kids were relentless, and we got the ‘W,'” Kill said after the game. “You know what, 10 years from now, they’ll look back and the only thing people will remember is that we won.”