There is a small margin of error when playing teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. SIU Coach Nick Hill knows for sure now, after a heartbreaking 24-17 loss to Northern Iowa.
“We need to execute at a high level to win in the MVFC,” Hill said after the loss Saturday. “Unfortunately, we were battling up hill all game and didn’t execute at that level.”
The first Saluki drive of the game displayed several miscues, which became a trend throughout the contest. On that drive, the Saluki offense crisply moved the pigskin down inside the Panther red zone. Once in scoring range, the Dawgs were called for a hold and had to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt. SIU kicker Matt Sotiropoulos’ kick was a few inches short and bounced off the middle of the cross bar back onto the field.
That occurrence was a symbol for the rest of the night — just coming up short.
After the Sotiropoulos miss, the Panthers responded with 10 straight points on a first quarter 45-yard field goal by Sam Drysdale and a second quarter passing touchdown from UNI quarterback Eli Dunn to wide receiver Daurice Fountain.
The Panthers really put the dagger in with 2:09 to go in that second period. Dunn hit tight end Elias Nissen from four yards out to make it 17-3 at the halftime break.
The Salukis made some key adjustments in the final two quarters of the game and the Dawgs outscored UNI in the second half. However, the mistakes SIU made in its final three drives ended any hope to upset the No. 20 Panthers.
SIU was down a touchdown most of the fourth quarter, and with 11:27 left in the game, SIU drove into the red zone once again. This time a fumble by tight end Jacob Varble gave the ball back to the Panthers. UNI chewed up some clock, but no points, punting the ball back to SIU.
The Salukis had success moving the ball into the scoring position.
While at the eight-yard line on third down, Straub attempted to find his running back Daquan Isom on a check down, but Isom couldn’t handle the pass, tipping it the air into the waiting hands of a UNI defender.
SIU’s defense held strong after the turnover, and the Salukis had another opportunity to send the game into overtime with about a minute to go and no timeouts.
However, pressure by the UNI defense forced a throw into coverage and another Straub interception, effectively putting an end to SIU’s chances of victory.
“I was proud of the way we played them close,” Hill said. “But, the next step is to actually win the game.”
SIU is 3-13 in games decided by one score over the past three years.
The Dawgs travel to top 10 South Dakota State for a 6 p.m. kickoff Saturday.