Salukis ruffle Redbirds’ feathers with 42-7 Homecoming win


Freshman Dan Heilbron hikes the ball Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, during to the Salukis’ 42-7 win against the Illinois State University Redbirds at Saluki Stadium. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

By Nathan Dodd

The SIU football team upset the No. 15 Illinois State Redbirds 42-7 Saturday at Saluki Stadium.

The Salukis had not beaten the Redbirds since their 2013 matchup in Carbondale — the last time that SIU had a winning record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Saturday’s game between the long-time rivals was also the first time that they have met for a Homecoming game at Saluki Stadium. The last time SIU and ISU met for Homecoming was at McAndrew Stadium in 2009.


In the 80th all-time battle between the storied Illinois schools, SIU dominated both sides of the football, which ultimately lead to victory.

“I think tonight we put it all together,” head coach Nick Hill said. “When we come together, we can get on a roll. We’ll enjoy this, I promise.”

In the opening Saluki drive, junior starting quarterback Sam Straub completed an explosive 48-yard pass to place the Salukis in the red zone.

Two plays later, Straub found his sophomore running back D.J. Davis standing wide open near the end zone. From 21 yards out, the two Salukis connected for the first touchdown of the game.

“The first drive of the game was huge,” Straub said. “Getting a score and the defense getting a stop made it a different kind of game than if you go three and out. Scoring on the open drive put us in position to end up where we were.”

Dylan Nelson
Junior running back Daquan Isom runs the ball Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 during the Saluki’s 42-7 win against the Illinois State Redbirds at Saluki Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

The ensuing possession for Illinois State looked to have Southern up against the wall. The Salukis’ sophomore safety Jeremy Chinn pulled down his third interception of the year to put the football back in SIU’s hands.

After both teams had multiple drives that failed to score, SIU struck again for their second touchdown of the game on a 3-yard shovel pass from Straub to Davis, giving the Salukis a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter of play.


Southern Illinois wasted no time in scoring when they got the ball back. A 7-play, 85-yard scoring drive was capped off with TD catch by redshirt freshman wide receiver Sam Bonansinga — his first career score.

In the final drive of the first half for the Redbirds, ISU junior quarterback Jake Kolbe was on the receiving end of a vicious sack by SIU senior linebacker Markese Jackson. Kolbe went on to throw his second pick of the game on the next play from scrimmage — this one to senior cornerback Craig James.

Southern Illinois took a 21-0 lead into halftime, along with the confidence to hand the Redbirds their first MVFC loss of the season.

SIU, who deferred the opening kickoff, got the ball on offense to open the second half of play.

Dylan Nelson
Junior quarterback Sam Straub stands on the sidelines Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 during the Saluki’s 42-7 win against the Illinois State Redbirds at Saluki Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Straub and the Salukis only needed 3 plays to increase their lead over the Redbirds. The junior QB led junior wide receiver Raphael Leonard down the field for a 73-yard TD pass.

The score was Straub’s fourth touchdown completion of the game and Leonard’s fourth receiving TD this season.

Down by 28 points with the third quarter coming to a close, the Redbirds took the ball down the field to the Saluki 5-yard line. On fourth down with five yards to go, the Salukis held the Redbirds out the end zone to keep ISU scoreless.

However, the Redbirds responded on their next drive when Kolbe hooked up with junior wide receiver Spencer Schnell for a 19-yard touchdown, giving ISU its first points in the game.

On the next Illinois State possession early in the fourth quarter, a missed backward pass turned into a fumble recovered by the Salukis.

While the Salukis were unable to capitalize on the Redbirds mistake, they did come up with a third interception on the following ISU drive. Saluki senior cornerback Roman Tatum came up with the interception — his first of the season — giving SIU excellent field position.

A quick two-play attack that featured a 41-yard reception by Iwema was finished off when Saluki senior running back Cameron Walter rushed into the end zone from five yards out.

Walter’s first score of the season pushed the SIU lead to 35-7.

With just over one minute left in the contest, the Salukis struck again. Junior running back Jonathan Mixon marched into the end zone on a 3-yard TD run, giving the Salukis a 42-7 advantage.

As time ran out, Saluki freshman defensive lineman Chucky Sullivan forced an ISU fumble that was recovered by junior outside linebacker Withney Simon to officially ice the game.

“We had a lot of people here,” Chinn said. “We saw Carl Mauck and Walt Frazier were here. We just wanted to put on a show for those guys.”

Dylan Nelson
Sophomore running back D.J. Davis runs the ball for a touchdown Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 during the Saluki’s 42-7 win against the Illinois State Redbirds at Saluki Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Key Performances

Days after Hill talked about the offense needing improved play from Straub, the junior QB was able to overmatch a strong Redbird defense.

Straub completed 22 pass attempts spread across six different Saluki receivers for 368 yards and four touchdowns through the air.

D.J. Davis was the offensive catalyst for SIU on Saturday after a limited workload last week. The sophomore gained 60 yards rushing on only seven attempts to go along with seven receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

SIU receivers Darrell James, Leonard and Iwema finished the game with 70, 86 and 118 receiving yards, respectively.

Leading a stingy Saluki defense was redshirt freshman defensive end Anthony Knighton with five total tackles and a quarterback sack in the contest.

Junior safety Jefferson Vea, sophomore linebacker Airan Reed and senior linebacker Markese Jackson also added five total tackles each.

Craig James, Chinn and Tatum all came up with interceptions that halted the ISU offense.

“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the guys in that locker room,” Hill said. “We talked about being a family, playing for each other and having fun. I think that’s what they came out and did today.”

Junior safety Jefferson Vea carries the American Flag onto the field Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, before the Salukis’ 42-7 win against the Illinois State University Redbirds at Saluki Stadium. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

Up Next

SIU (3-3, 1-2 MVFC) travels to Terre Haute, Indiana on Saturday to face off against the Indiana State University Sycamores (0-6, 0-3 MVFC) . Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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

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