3 things we learned: Western Illinois savors first win of unique spring football season
today at 12:17 am
For the first time in 518 days, the Western Illinois football team was able to celebrate a victory.
On Saturday night in Macomb, in Week 6 of the unique spring 2021 season, the Leathernecks earned a Missouri Valley Football Conference win thanks to a potent offense – at times – two return touchdowns and a stifling second-half defense that held off Youngstown State, 27-24.
The win was Western’s first since a 38-34 triumph against South Dakota on Nov. 2, 2019.
“It definitely feels great,” WIU senior quarterback Connor Sampson said. “Today, we played complimentary football, which we’ve been talking about all season.”
After Sampson threw a 28-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Tony Tate with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game, Western’s defense collected a pair of sacks. Defensive back Justin Nutof sealed the victory with an interception of YSU quarterback Mark Waid with 1:41 to go one of two WIU picks in the second half.
“Wins in this conference are very hard to come by, and one thing I don’t think anyone can say about our team is that we aren’t a gusty team that fights,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said. “I got a bunch of warriors in that locker room. Regardless of the score or situation, those guys play hard. That gives me more pride than anything.”
Now 1-5, Western dropped YSU to the identical record.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from the Western triumph.
- Defense gets it done
A late first-half touchdown gave the Penguins a 21-13 halftime lead. YSU moved the ball on their first second-half drive to WIU’s 15-yard line but only managed a field goal for an 11-point lead at 24-13. “That was huge,” Elliott said. The defense also forced a fumble on a fourth-down strip sack of Waid, picked off two passes, piled up 11 tackles for loss and had four sacks. Despite yielding a 73-yard touchdown run to standout YSU running back Jaleel McLaughlin in the first half, Western limited the Penguins to 103 yards on YSU’s other 44 rushing attempts in the game. Michael Lawson intercepted Waid at the 7:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
2. Special teams pay dividends
With Tate on the sidelines after a big hit, a new face returned the first Youngstown State punt of the game. Despite not fielding a punt since the 2019 season at Lamar University, Lawson broke away for a 36-yard TD return at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. One play after Western’s defense limited YSU to a field goal on the Penguins’ initial third-quarter drive, Tate fielded a kickoff at the WIU 4 and outraced the coverage unit for a 96-yard score, the ninth-longest return in school history.
3. Run game takes steps
Freshman Ludovick Choquette rushed for a career-best 62 yards for the Leathernecks, who mixed in the run with Sampson’s 301-yard passing game. “We just had to keep going back to it,” Sampson said. Chouquette, a freshman from Canada, rushed for 36 of those yards in the fourth quarter for Western.
What’s up next?
Western visits Southern Illinois for a noon game on Saturday, April 10.