Leathernecks edge out Salukis in a wild one

By Thomas Donley, @tdonleyDE

SIU (1-3, 0-1) football lost to Western Illinois (2-2, 1-0) 37-36 Saturday in a game with seven lead changes. 

WIU junior kicker Nathan Knuffman’s 20-yard field goal with two seconds left made the difference in a game that saw seven lead changes.

The loss was SIU’s third by three or fewer points this season. 

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Saluki freshman receiver Jimmy Jones said the loss was frustrating.

“We work hard week in and week out, every day in practice,” Jones said. “To come up this short, man, there’s not much you can do or say, but at the same time, we’ve got to give ourselves a better chance to win.”

The Leathernecks struck first on a 27-yard touchdown run by senior running back Nikko Watson, the only score of the first quarter.

A one-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Trenton Norvell extended WIU’s lead to 14-6 with 9:39 left in the first half. 

Saluki senior Mark Iannotti found freshman Jones on the left sideline for a touchdown on the ensuing drive, cutting the Leathernecks lead to 14-13.

Western’s next drive stalled at its own 37 when SIU senior outside linebacker Brandon Williams blocked a punt and returned it 26 yards to put his team on top for the first time.

SIU held a 20-14 lead at halftime.

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SIU junior kicker Austin Johnson missed a 24-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Johnson was two for four in the first half, including a career-long 51-yard field goal. 

Watson put WIU back on top early in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown.

Iannotti threw his fourth interception of the season on the following drive. One play later Norvell found freshman wide receiver Stacey Smith for a 53-yard touchdown pass to extend the Western lead to 28-20.

Saluki sophomore running back Cameron Walter capped SIU’s next drive with a 25-yard touchdown run, his first of the season.

Defensive scores set the tone in the fourth quarter.

SIU sophomore safety Kenny James intercepted a Norvell pass and returned it 70 yards to put the Salukis back on top, 33-28, with 13:08 left in the game.

Iannotti overthrew junior receiver Billy Reed on the ensuing two-point conversion.

WIU sophomore linebacker Brett Taylor scored on a fumble by SIU senior quarterback Matt McIntosh. The two-point conversion failed, but WIU held a 34-33 lead. 

Johnson connected on a 32-yard field goal with 5:33 left, putting SIU up 36-34. SIU led until Knuffman’s game-winning field goal. 

SIU and Western combined for 953 yards of total offense.

Watson ran 27 times for a game-high 174 yards and two touchdowns. Eight Salukis combined to rush for 194 yards, one fewer than the Leathernecks gained on the ground.

Iannotti finished 21 for 30 with 227 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Norvell completed 18 of 35 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and two picks.

Lenoir led all receivers with 120 receiving yards. Jones totaled receiving 89 yards to pace SIU.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269

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