The 2015 away game against Southeast Missouri State and this past Saturday’s away game in the same stadium, both started off with a turnover by SIU. However, the reaction of those two teams was worlds apart.
In 2015, SIU emotionally folded after an interception by Mark Iannotti and went on to turn the ball over six more times (four fumbles, three interceptions in total) in a 27-24 loss to the Redhawks.
On Saturday, SIU’s Daquan Isom put the ball on the turf on his first carry. This time SIU’s veteran team just bowed its figurative football neck and scored the next 21 points — to basically win the game. Winning in Football, like any other sport, is a good part mental and emotional — not necessarily about who has the best talent.
“I told the team before the game that there would probably be some sort of adversity,” said SIU coach Nick Hill.
But this time that adversity was overcome by parts of the team not heard from in 2015.
Indeed, although SIU won the contest 38-18, statistically, SIU did not dominate. The Dawgs only outgained the Hawks 305 yards to 278. SIU’s supposedly offensive juggernaut coughed and wheezed in the second half after garnering 28 points in the first two quarters.
In fact, it was the Saluki defense and special teams that set up most of the scores for the sputtering offense. Time and time again, those two specialty teams set up the Dawg’s offense for scores.
In the first half, return man DJ Davis ran a kick back 42 yards to give his offense a short field for a scoring drive. Then punt returner Craig James had an acrobatic 14-yard return setting up another short touchdown drive for the Dawgs.
After Southeast Missouri scored in the second quarter to make it 21-10, it was Davis again running the ensuing kickoff back 38 yards to set up a third SIU score in the second period.
In the rather score-barren second half, it was SIU’s punting game that gave the Saluki offense another short path to the end zone.
SIU punter Lane Reazin averaged more than 47 yards per kick in the game, but it was his mammoth 60-yard boot in the second half that led to the only touchdown of the period.
The punt was mishandled by the Hawk’s Shabari Davis and the fumble was recovered inside the RedHawk 10-yard line. SIU quarterback Sam Straub proceeded to hit tight end Jake Varble in the right corner of the Hawk’s end zone to score Southern’s only second half touchdown.
The second half was rather boring offensively. But Hill said he planned it that way.
“We could have opened it up in the second half offensively,” Hill said. “But if we are going to win championships, we have to run the ball, play defense and have great specialty team play.”
The Salukis accomplished two out of the three.
Although SIU’s defense held Southeast Missouri to 3.3 yards per carry average on the ground, but SIU’s ground game only averaged 2.6 yards per carry. In fact, the Redhawk’s defense wasn’t bad.
Rather it was the Hawk’s propensity to make mistakes that killed them. They incurred 13 penalties for an incredible 143 yards.