Salukis find something special in win over Wesleyan

By Gus Bode

SIU’s special teams take control against the Panthers

There were many storylines during the SIU football team’s opening game victory Thursday night.

There was senior running back Tom Koutsos leading the offensive charge with four first-quarter touchdowns. There was a linebacker and a trio of defensive backs who picked off passes in the fourth quarter to lead the defensive charge.


Just as dominant, however, was the Salukis’ special teams that controlled the flow of the game from the opening kickoff to the final horn.

Senior kicker Scott Everhart pinned the Panthers inside their own 15-yard line on the opening kickoff and on their first play from scrimmage they fumbled the ball, which led to the Salukis’ first touchdown of the game.

Much of the game seemed like a never-ending cycle of SIU pinning Wesleyan deep in its own territory, followed by the defense holding the Panthers on three straight downs.

Then the Salukis’ return men would bring back the punts nearly 30 yards each time, and the offense would only need about 30 seconds to get into the end zone.

The end result was the Saluki offense running 32 fewer plays than that of the Panthers and SIU holding the ball nearly 15 minutes less than Wesleyan, which pleased head coach Jerry Kill as his team prepares to take on Southeast Missouri State this Saturday.

“We didn’t show much on offense, so we don’t have to let SEMO know a whole lot,” Kill said. “We kept it simple and got the job done.”

The Salukis scored on eight of its first nine drives, the first five of which took no more than two plays and 31 seconds to complete.


There were a couple times the Saluki offense did not even need to be on the field for the team to put points on the board.

At the open of the second half, Chris Gadson returned the lone Wesleyan kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown.

“Chris Gadson was a skinny ol’ freshman last year that nobody knew about,” Kill said “And tonight he looked like an All American, jumping around making plays, and he’s got some tremendous speed.”

In the fourth quarter, freshman Quorey Payne scampered from sideline to sideline and eventually made it into the end zone for a 47-yard punt return.

Overall, the Salukis returned eight punts for a total of 207 yards, which averages out to more than 25 yards per return.

The impressive returns translated into excellent field position throughout the game, which, as Kill put it, often results in a victory.

“Field position is always critical in any football game,” Kill said, “and if you don’t let that opponent get it, you’ve got a good chance to win.”

The only spot where SIU floundered on occasion was in the kicking game. Everhart missed a 24-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, and freshman Craig Coffin missed an extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter.

Those mistakes, however, were overshadowed by the tandem’s overall performance. Coffin booted three field goals or 26, 24 and 27 yards and he also hit five extra-point attempts.

Everhart, who was pulled after shanking his lone field goal attempt, showed off his leg strength on the kickoffs and punts. He had several touchbacks and had his two punts returned a total of six yards.

“The good thing was, after Craig went in and got some good field goals and did a good job, Scott kicked off better and punted great,” Kill said. “So I thought the kicking game overall wasn’t too bad.”

Reporter Todd Merchant can be reached at [email protected]