SIU drops season finale to MVFC champions

By Tony McDaniel

Despite a strong second half, the Salukis fell in their final game of the season to an in-state rival.

No. 7 Illinois State (10-1) defeated SIU (6-6), 44-29. SIU scored 29 points in the second half, but could not find an answer to the Redbirds’ rushing attack.

Redbird junior running back Marshaun Coprich carried the ball 29 times for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns; it was his 11th-straight 100-yard game. ISU junior quarterback Tre Roberson finished 14-for-23 with 319 yards, 3 passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.

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With the victory, Illinois State clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title with North Dakota State.

SIU coach Dale Lennon said he knew before the game Illinois State would play the Salukis tough.

“It was a physical football game,” he said. “Illinois State was playing for a conference championship, so you knew you were going to get their best game.”

Lennon said Illinois State’s offense was the best his team faced all season.

For SIU, junior quarterback Mark Iannotti led the second-half surge. He finished 24-for-38 with 266 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. Iannotti also had a rushing touchdown.

Senior tight end MyCole Pruitt set the single-season school record for receptions in his final game as a Saluki. Pruitt’s 10 catches gave him 81 for the season. The previous record was Cornell Craig’s 77 catches in 1999.

The All-American said it was an emotional end to his career.

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“I love my teammates and everyone that has been here from the beginning supporting me,” Pruitt said. “ I appreciate all those people and my coaches. It’s hard to see it end on this note.”

Iannotti said Pruitt is the most athletic and passionate player he’s ever played with.

Roberson opened the scoring for Illinois State during the first drive of the game.

He threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Cameron Meredith. The drive went 53 yards on just five plays.

Cameron finished the game with 8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown.

On Illinois State’s next drive, Roberson struck again, this time on a 70-yard pass to senior wide receiver Lechein Neblett. ISU’s second touchdown drive was even shorter than the first. The redbirds needed just three plays to move the ball 69 yards for the score.

Roberson put on an offensive show in the first half. He was 10-for-17 with 247 yards and 2 touchdowns at the end of the first 30 minutes.

A botched snap on a punt attempt allowed Illinois State to score a safety with 4:59 left to play in the first quarter. Freshman punter Nick Neidig could not control the snap and kicked the ball out of the back of SIU’s end zone to keep Illinois State from recovering the ball for a touchdown.

Illinois State out-gained SIU 400 yards to 124 in the first half.

In the second half, the Saluki offense began to click but the defense could not stop Illinois State.

SIU answered a Coprich touchdown to start the second half with one of its own.

Iannotti found senior wide receiver LaSteven McKinney on a 7-yard pass to put the Salukis on the board.

Illinois State answered the score with another touchdown pass from Roberson to Neblett. He finished the game with 4 catches for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Thirteen seconds later, Iannotti threw a 61-yard pass to senior wide receiver Tay Willis for a quick touchdown to make the score 30-15.

Willis had a big day for the Salukis. He finished with 5 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Willis also took over running back duties for redshirt freshman Cameron Walter who left that game in the first quarter with an injury. Willis had 11 carries for 41 yards.

SIU did all it could to get back into the game, but the Redbirds answered each SIU score with one of their own to make the final score 44-29.

With the loss, SIU’s season comes to end at 6-6 and Illinois State will get to move on to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with its 10-1 season.

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