Penguins freeze Saluki football on Senior Day

By Nathan Dodd

Saturday’s game was the last time that SIU’s 14 seniors suited up for battle in Saluki Stadium and gave the fans a disappointing, but exciting farewell.

The 29th matchup between SIU (4-6, 2-5 MVFC) and YSU (5-5, 3-4 MVFC) marked the third consecutive meeting that was decided by only one possession. Youngstown emerged victorious 28-20, the first win for the Penguins in Carbondale since 2013.

“It’s very frustrating,” sophomore safety Jeremy Chinn said. “We just keep hitting a wall. The little things off the field show up on the field and that’s why we continue to lose games by one possession.”


YSU’s first drive looked promising after the Penguins accumulated 47 yards on 10 plays. SIU sophomore safety James Ceasar forced a fumble that was recovered and ended the YSU threat.

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz
Sophomore safety James Chinn, and sophomore safety James Ceasar, celebrate a touchback Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, during the Salukis’ 28-20 loss against the Youngstown State Penguins at Saluki Stadium. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Both squads traded punts until the Penguins’ final drive that opened the second quarter.

Senior receiver Ricky Davis took a 10-yard rush to the end zone and fumbled on the tackle by SIU senior safety Ryan Neal. The ball rolled to the back of the end zone and was recovered out of bounds by YSU. Officials ruled a touchback that rewarded SIU the football.

After sophomore quarterback Tanner Hearn failed to lead the Salukis to points, head coach Nick Hill turned to junior Matt DeSomer.

On the seventh play of the drive, DeSomer broke free for a 58-yard touchdown run — his first of the season — that gave the Salukis a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

YSU used five big plays, including a 48-yard touchdown connection between senior quarterback Hunter Wells and senior receiver Damoun Patterson, that knotted that game at seven points each.

DeSomer and junior receiver Raphael Leonard connected on a 32-yard pass that gave the offense momentum. Three plays later, sophomore running back D.J. Davis fumbled and turned the ball over to Youngstown.


On the back of a 23-yard rush by freshman tailback Christian Turner, the Penguins continued to march toward the end zone. The drive was capped off on a 14-yard TD catch by Patterson — his second of the contest — that gave YSU a 14-7 advantage at the half.

Youngstown’s second possession of the half resulted in an interception of Wells by senior cornerback Craig James, his second pick of the season.

The forced turnover spotted the Salukis in YSU territory. DeSomer burst for a 23-yard gain, followed by a 12-yard rush by senior running back Cameron Walter that put Southern within nine yards of tying the game.

Head coach Bo Pelini’s defense forced SIU to settle for a 25-yard field goal from redshirt freshman Nico Gualdoni. The first field goal of Gualdoni’s career closed the YSU lead to 14-10.

“We have to do better on offense,” DeSomer said. “We need to execute our plays and actually follow through with the game plan.”

On the ensuing Youngstown possession, junior tailback Tevin McCaster found a hole and rattled off a 35-yard rush. A 15-yard facemask penalty on the Salukis moved the ball to the SIU 30-yard line.

McCaster racked up the remaining 30 yards to score and gave YSU a 21-10 lead.

The Salukis began their drive from their own 47-yard line after YSU was whistled for two unsportsmanlike conduct calls. SIU pulled out a trick play when DeSomer took the snap, passed to senior receiver Connor Iwema, who then threw back to DeSomer for a 34-yard gain.

The 34 yards receiving for DeSomer led the team. He also posted team bests with 140 yards rushing and 81 yards passing.

“He’s a heck of a football player,” Hill said. “When given the chance to be a full-time quarterback, he gives you a lot of flexibility. He was tough today.”

DeSomer completed a pass to junior receiver Darrell James for an 18-yard gain that set up an ensuing 1-yard rush into the end zone by DeSomer, his second TD rush in the game.

With the YSU lead at 21-17 in the fourth quarter, freshman defensive end Anthony Knighton made a huge play on a strip sack of Wells. SIU recovered the loose ball and set up its offense in Youngstown territory.

On a fourth and four with good field position, DeSomer broke loose for a 24-yard scramble. The Salukis could not capitalize and settled for a 29-yard field goal that brought the score to 21-20.

Dylan Nelson
Penguins head coach Bo Pelini yells at senior quarterback Hunter Wells Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, during the Salukis’ 28-20 loss against Youngstown State at Saluki Stadium. (Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Southern’s defense stopped another YSU scoring threat and brought out its offense late in the game with a chance to take a late lead. DeSomer was sacked and fumbled the ball. Youngstown’s defense recovered and carried the ball back 21 yards for a TD and 28-20 lead.

“It feels like we’re always close and we just can’t finish it,” DeSomer said.

The culmination of SIU’s season is on Nov. 18 at Western Illinois. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

“The past two weeks have been heartbreakers,” Hill said. “Next week is going to be another extremely tough challenge. We have to finish.”

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

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