Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz
The SIU football team fell to Missouri State 36-28 at Saluki Stadium on Saturday.
In the 40th meeting between the two schools, the Bears handed the Salukis a one-possession loss for the second consecutive season.
In last week’s loss to South Dakota, Southern Illinois’ junior quarterback Sam Straub was ruled out of the remainder of the regular season with a broken bone in his hand.
Head coach Nick Hill called on sophomore quarterback Tanner Hearn to make his first career start.
Hill said that Hearn does a great job managing the game and works well in the offense that also features junior Matt DeSomer at quarterback.
“We knew both of them had roles in the plays we scripted out,” Hill said. “Matt can add a lot to the run game and can also throw the ball.”
SIU had the pleasure of starting its first drive from MSU’s 40-yard line following a targeting call that resulted in the ejection of the Bears’ freshman cornerback Zack Sanders.
Senior running back Cameron Walter gave the Salukis an early 7-0 with a six-yard touchdown rush — his second of the season.
The Bears answered quickly with a two-play drive that resulted in a 10-yard TD run from junior tailback Jason Randall, knotting the contest at 7 points each.
On the ensuing drive, Hearn handed the ball over to MSU on a strip sack and set up the Bear offense on the SIU 16-yard line.
“We had a screen play called on the fumble and he scrambled,” Hill said of the botched play. “You can’t scramble on a screen play. You throw it at a defender’s feet for an incompletion and instead we scrambled and fumbled.”
The Bears proceeded to score their second touchdown of the game on an 8-yard rush from senior tight end Erik Furmanek that pushed the MSU lead to 17-7.
One drive later, MSU struck again when Huslig connected with senior wide receiver Malik Earl for a 57-yard touchdown pass, the seventh-longest play the Saluki defense has allowed all season. Overall, SIU allowed five plays of 40 yards or more on the day after only allowing nine of such plays before Saturday.
“As a defense, we can’t give up that many big plays,” sophomore outside linebacker Airan Reed said. “We know we have a great defense but their offense just had the better hand.”
Hearn helped the Salukis close the gap to 24-14 on a 6-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Connor Iwema.
Neither team threatened again until Hearn — who threw four interceptions last week at South Dakota — was picked off in the end zone by MSU sophomore cornerback Darius Joseph to thwart a potential touchdown.
In the second half DeSomer and Hearn traded snaps, often on the same drive, however it was Hearn that finished drives, as shown by his 29-yard TD pass with junior wide receiver Darrell James. Hearn finished the day going 13-22 for 180 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
James’s seventh touchdown reception of the season narrowed the the Bears’ lead to 27-21.
Following a pivotal stop of the MSU offensive attack, SIU’s offense turned the momentum into quick points. Saluki junior RB Daquan Isom busted a 26-yard rush and was followed on the next play by a 47-yard TD catch-and-run by sophomore RB D.J. Davis.
“I had great blocking on the perimeter,” Davis said. “After the safety missed me it was over with.”
Davis’ explosiveness resulted in the sophomore surpassing the 100-yard receiving mark in the game and pushed SIU into the lead 28-27. He was the leading receiver in the game with 130 yards through the air and also added 40 on the ground.
Trying to stay aggressive in protecting its lead, SIU sophomore linebacker Cody Crider was ejected on a targeting call.
The ejection marked successive games for the Salukis that a player has been dismissed from the contest for targeting. Crider will miss the first half of next Saturday’s matchup with Youngstown State as a result.
To the dismay of the Salukis, MSU immediately rattled off a nine-play 73-yard drive that resulted in a TD reception by Furmanek.
With a 33-28 advantage, the Bears chewed the clock for a 68-yard drive that resulted in a 36-yard field goal icing the game.
The loss puts the Salukis’ playoff hopes on the back burner for another year after failing to achieve their goal of winning the final three games of the season.
“We just have to win moving forward,” Davis said. “I trust coach Hill and the offense and defense. We win as brothers and don’t let this loss get to us.”
SIU (4-5, 2-4 MVFC) will play its final home game of the season on Nov. 11 against Youngstown State (4-5, 2-4 MVFC). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.
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