War of the Wheel: Southern vs. SEMO showdown

By Sports Editor, Adam Warfel

Southern will face their first opponent of the year in football on Thursday, Aug. 29 when they travel to Cape Girardeau, MO to take on SEMO.

Last season, the Redhawks and Salukis started the inaugural War of the Wheel game, which SIU lost 48-44 after SEMO scored a touchdown with 25 seconds left.

Looking ahead to Southern’s match-up against the number 17 team in the nation, what are the keys to the game? 

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What does the defense look like?

Last season, the defense gave up 37 points per game under former defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson. In the SEMO game alone, SIU’s defense gave up 531 yards and 352 of those yards were rushing. After last season ended, head coach Nick Hill brought in Jason Pertrino as the new defensive coordinator.

In his press conference on Monday, Hill said he expects the defensive line to be better this season, after giving up 2,434 rushing yards last season.

“They need to have a chip on their shoulder,” Hill said. “Whenever you give up a lot of rushing yards in a season like we did a year ago, you think of the front seven the defensive line.”

New starting quarterback

With the graduation of Matt DeSomer, SIU began looking for a new quarterback in the spring. Junior Kare Lyles, freshman Nic Baker and sophomore Stone Labanowitz each battled in both spring and fall camp to be named the starter. 

Earlier this month, Hill announced Labanowitz as the starter via Twitter. Labanowitz will be taking over as the starting quarterback after playing in one game last season then redshirting.

 Labanowitz transferred to SIU from ASA Junior College in Brooklyn, New York. He played in 10 games as a freshman there, leading his team to a 9-1 record and completing 71.9 percent of his passes.

Hill said one of the keys to the game will be taking care of the football against a defense that played well last season.

“They took it away from people better than anybody in the country last year,” Hill said. “I think they were plus 26, which is unheard of, there’s no secret in the key to this game is taking care of the football.”

What does the Redhawk’s offense look like?

Last year, the Redhawks senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina passed for 179 yards and rushed for a total of 22 yards against the SIU defense. 

Over the course of last season, Santacaterina completed 59 percent of his passes and averaged 218.8 yards per game. He ended the season with 28 passing touchdowns, 2,844 passing yards and 393 passing attempts which were all second on SEMO’s single season records list. 

Last year, running back Marquis Terry ran for 311 rushing yards, which was a record for the Redhawks and an Ohio Valley Conference Record as well. 

SEMO will be looking to fill his role after he graduated last year. Junior Mark Robinson is expected to fill the void left by Terry. Hill said Robinson plays a little different than Terry did, yet he’s still a threat due to his 6- foot, 222 pound frame.

“He’s a good runner and had some flashes last year,” Hill said. “He’s probably not as elite speed as Terry, but from his size once he gets rolling he’s downhill, and he’s a good back.”

Hill said who wins this game will come down to which team plays the fundamentals better.

“It’s still going to come down to fundamentals, it’s going to come down to blocking and tackling and catching,” Hill said. “There’s no tricks the team that wins this game is not going to win it on trick plays.”

A lot of factors go into this year’s first match-up for both teams, the Salukis and Redhawks will both see what their teams will shape up to be on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Adam Warfel, Sports Editor, can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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