3 things we learned: Salukis reel in another ‘big fish’ with win vs. No. 4 Northern Iowa
Saturday at 6:27 pm
Combine a scoreless first half on offense, an injured quarterback and a defense that gives up 233 yards in the first two quarters.
What do you get?
The second win this season against a top-five team in the nation for Southern Illinois, of course.
The Salukis rallied with 17 second-half points and survived when Northern Iowa’s Matt Cook missed a 29-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to give No. 10 SIU a 17-16 triumph against the fourth-ranked Panthers in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game in Carbondale.
The victory provided Southern Illinois with two wins against top-five teams in the same season, a first in school history. The Salukis upset then-No. 1 North Dakota State two weeks ago.
“We just took down two big fish,” said SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz said, who came into the game as an injury replacement. “They’re going to be right on our wall, hanging.”
The Salukis pulled off the victory after starting quarterback Nic Baker injured his left foot on a first-quarter run. He left the game in the second quarter and was replaced by Labanowitz, who was SIU’s starter at the beginning of the 2019 season.
After halftime, Baker was on crutches on the sidelines.
Labanowitz led the Salukis (4-1 overall, 3-1 MVFC) to 10 third-quarter points, then hit senior wide receiver Jerron Rollins in the back of the end zone with 9:43 left in the game to put SIU ahead for good.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Salukis in the victory:
- SIU has playmakers
Seven different players caught a pass in the victory for SIU, while six different players had rushing attempts. Running back Javon Williams Jr. threw a 42-yard TD pass, while rushing for 41 yards and catching three passes for 17 yards as SIU put up 279 of its 416 yards in the second half.
“We were able to pick up first downs, get some explosive plays,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said.
Leading rusher Romier Elliott had 80 of the Salukis’ 192 rushing yards. Justin Strong and Avante Cox added 33 and 30 yards, respectively. Cox was the leading receiver with four catches for 67 yards and a TD, while Landon Lenoir had five receptions for 59 yards. The Salukis also got key contributions from tight end Levi Mitchell (40 yards on two catches) and Elliott (two catches, 25 yards).
2. Defense proves resilient … again
Down by two scores for the second week in a row, SIU’s defense responded again in the victory.
The unit allowed three second-half points and only five UNI first downs in the final two periods. SIU forced UNI to punt twice in the second half and recovered a fumble forced by safety Qua Brown.
Linebacker Bryson Strong had a team-best eight tackles and SIU’s only sack of the day. Cornerback James Ceasar collected two of the team’s four pass breakups.
“The defense kept us in it and made them keep kicking field goals,” Hill said. Of UNI’s 10 drives in the contest, the Panthers were forced to attempt five field goals.
3. What’s next at QB?
Labanowitz is a former starter and likely will retain the job if Baker and Kare’ Lyles, who began the season as SIU’s top quarterback, aren’t healthy next weekend.
He proved more than capable of handling the role Saturday by completing 11 of 15 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Lyles is nursing broken ribs that were sustained in the team’s season-opening loss at North Dakota.
What’s up next?
Southern Illinois hosts South Dakota State at noon on Saturday, March 20 in Carbondale.