Salukis can’t tame Tigers, fall 44-31


Dylan Nelson | @DylanNelson99

University of Memphis sophomore running back Patrick Taylor Jr. (6) is tackled by SIU senior inside line backer Markese Jackson (13), sophomore inside linebacker Cody Crider (29), and sophomore safety James Caesar (16) Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, during the Salukis’ game against the University of Memphis at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. (Dylan Nelson | @DylanNelson99)

By Nathan Dodd

The SIU football team was on a mission Saturday night to spoil the University of Memphis homecoming — in the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between the two schools —but it was the Tigers who walked away victorious, 44-31.

The Salukis began the game with intentions of taking control early and often on the offensive side of the ball. After SIU chose to receive the opening kick, a nine-play drive was capped off by a 36-yard touchdown connection between junior quarterback Sam Straub and redshirt senior receiver Connor Iwema.

Southern’s aerial attack continued in the first quarter when Straub hooked up with redshirt junior receiver Darrell James. The score was the third of the season for James – a new career high.


Memphis had an answer for each Saluki score in the first half. A three-play and 10-play drive each resulted in touchdown passes thrown by Tiger senior quarterback Riley Ferguson.

With the first half seemingly complete, the duo of Straub and James hooked up for a 33-yard TD with only 36 seconds remaining on the clock. The score by James marked the second game in a row that the Saluki wideout recorded two touchdowns in a game.

As time expired in the first half of play, an energetic Saluki team entered the locker room with a 21-17 lead.

“We knew it was going to take a full 60 minutes to win,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “We put ourselves in a good position for the next 30 minutes. They had a half to see some of the ways we were playing them and they were going to come out with a good second half game plan.”

Hungering to please a homecoming crowd of over 41,000, the Tigers regained control of the ballgame in the second half.

As fans were still finding their way back to their seats, a quick four-play touchdown drive pushed the Tigers out in front for their first lead of the match.

After a made 32-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Matt Sotiropoulos, SIU appeared poised to climb their way back in control.


On the ensuing kickoff, Memphis redshirt sophomore running back returned the kick the length of the field for a 100-yard touchdown to push the Tigers’ lead to 34-24.

When a fourth quarter Tiger field goal increased the lead to 37-24, the game appeared to be nailed down.

With their backs against the wall, the Salukis marched down with a 13-play touchdown drive where Straub threw his fourth TD pass of the game – this one to redshirt junior tight end Jaylon Graham.

Dylan Nelson
Sophomore kicker Matt Sotiropoulos kicks the ball for a field goal Saturday, September 23, 2017 at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. The Salukis fell to the University of Memphis Tigers, 44 – 31. (Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Memphis responded quickly with a six-yard TD run by sophomore running back Patrick Taylor, putting the victory in the bag.

Saturday’s game at Memphis served as SIU’s annual game against an FBS opponent in which the Salukis get a chance to play a game against a team a subdivision above them.

“To me, there never a big difference,” SIU senior safety Ryan Neal said. “Football is the same between the white lines. All you have to do is not make it too big. The only thing different about FBS and FCS is the mentality.”

Southern Illinois entered Saturday’s game at the Liberty Bowl as the clear underdog. Memphis, after defeating the nationally-ranked UCLA Bruins last week, was ranked 31st in the nation coming into their third game.

“We both put on our pads the same way. We both put on our helmets the same way. We both play football,” Straub said. “It really doesn’t matter. We try to come out here and compete and give it our all.”

On the day, Straub completed four touchdown passes to three different targets. The offense provided another strong showing for the Salukis as Connor Iwema totaled 118 yards on nine catches. Darrell James had three total catches for 43 yards while junior receiver Raphael Leonard secured six balls of his own for 70 yards on the night.

On the defensive side of the ball, Southern Illinois received another strong showing from safety Ryan Neal. The senior lead the Salukis with 10 total tackles. Two Saluki inside linebackers got in on the action as well as sophomore Cody Crider logged nine tackles to go along with the eight recorded by senior Kyron Watson.

“I was proud of our guys,” Hill said. “We didn’t just come down here to just be proud of the effort and play it close and feel good. Really, we’ve never questioned this team’s effort. I knew they were going to come out here and play hard. They wouldn’t be on this trip traveling if they weren’t a guy that commits, plays hard and battles.”

Up Next

SIU (2-1) begins conference play in the MVFC as they prepare to take on the University of Northern Iowa (1-2) in Carbondale for Family Weekend. The Salukis will be donning their all-black look in honor of their annual Black Out Cancer event at Saluki Stadium. The game is scheduled for Sept. 30 with kickoff at 6 p.m.

Sports reporter Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

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