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Illinois State, WIU renew rivalry Saturday in Macomb
today at 5:27 am
Phaleak Brown scores a touchdown in Illinois State’s spring win over rival Western Illinois. (photo courtesy goredbirds.com)
The last time rivals Illinois State and Western Illinois met on the field, the Redbirds came away with their lone win of the Missouri Valley Football Conference-only spring schedule. A day later, injury-depleted ISU called off its season. Two weeks later, WIU followed suit after earning its only victory of the season.
For the record, ISU built a 16-point lead and posted a 26-18 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory over WIU on that late March Saturday afternoon in Normal. The Redbirds used the 1-2 punch of backs Nigel White and Pha’leak Brown to control the clock and power past Western.
White led all rushers with a career-high 112 yards on 14 carries. Brown chipped in 108 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts.
ISU and Western will renew their rivalry Saturday at Hanson Field in Macomb, marking the 104th time the two schools will have played.
“This is what makes college football so special and great,” WIU head coach Jared Elliott said on his weekly show. “It’s not only about now, it’s about tradition and the guys that have worn these uniforms many years, and over a century in this case.”
Scouting the Redbirds
Illinois State is fresh off its biggest win of the season. The Redbirds surprised nationally ranked South Dakota 20-14 on the road last weekend.
The Redbirds are 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Missouri Valley.
Freshman running back Cole Mueller was the individual star of the show against South Dakota, finishing with a career-high 178 yards. Mueller has rushed for over 100 yards three times this season. In each case, ISU also posted a win.
“They’re very stout on defense. They’re stingy, they don’t give up a whole lot,” Elliott said of ISU. “Cole Mueller does a great job and he’s getting better as the season goes on.”
Illinois State head coach Brock Spack was pleased with the progress he saw with quarterback Bryce Jefferson, who made his second straight start after leaving the Sept. 18 game at Eastern Illinois with an injury.
“He made good decisions,” Spack said.
Jefferson completed 14-of-19 passes for 84 yards. More importantly, the sophomore did not throw any interceptions.
Illinois State’s defense, however, was what stood out most in the Redbirds’ upset of No. 15 South Dakota. Linebacker Kenton Wilhoit ran an interception back for a touchdown and defensive back Jarrell Jackson later secured the victory with a diving interception.
Jackson has three interceptions on the season and ISU has 11 as a team.
Scouting the Leathernecks
Western enters Saturday’s game with a 1-7 overall record and is 1-4 in the Missouri Valley. The Leathernecks lost 34-10 at North Dakota last weekend.
“Third down was glaring,” Elliott said. “We had seven or eight possessions where we started inside our own 15 (yard line). Field position was big.”
WIU has lost four straight and is winless in three home games this fall.
Quarterback Connor Sampson and his receiving corps continues to put up big numbers. The senior threw for 292 yards against UND to set a single-season career high total of 2,359 yards (and counting). Sampson has completed at least 20 passes in every game and has had 30 completions four times.
“Connor is, I believe, the best quarterback in our conference hands down, and I believe one of the better quarterbacks in the country,” Elliott said.
Spack said, “They have a veteran quarterback. He’s really good . . . He’s smooth, he’s accurate. He can make all the throws.”
Seniors Dennis Houston (70), Tony Tate (44) and Dallas Daniels (31) have combined for 145 catches for 1,587 yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
“We need to continue to find ways to protect (Sampson) and get those guys in space and make plays,” Elliott said.
Where to find the game
Illinois State at Western Illinois at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30. The game will air on ESPN3. The ISU radio call is available online at WJBC.com. https://www.wjbc.com/ and the WIU broadcast is available on WIU’s Mixlr.com home page.
ISU Redbirds, Missouri Valley Football Conference, WIU Leathernecks
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Blog co-authors Barry Bottino and Dan Verdun bring years of experience covering collegiate athletics. Barry has covered college athletes for more than two decades in his “On Campus” column, which is published weekly by Shaw Media. Dan has written four books about the state’s football programs–“NIU Huskies Football” (released in 2013), “EIU Panthers Football (2014), “ISU Redbirds” (2016) and “SIU Salukis Football” (2017).
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