Although Western Illinois University has a bulldog for a mascot as a sign of toughness, the SIU football Salukis showed the most toughness Saturday in a comeback win at Saluki Stadium.
SIU’s 44-34 victory was one of those turnaround wins that inspire pigskin poets to spin inspirational verbal pictures for others.
SIU wide receiver Israel Lamprakes, who had 203 receiving yards Saturday, said the win will last for a long time.
“This win is going to affect the team for the next few years,” said Lamprakes. “The next few years, everything is changing (for the program). It’s happening. It’s a blessing. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Sophomore Quarterback Sam Straub, who had 450 passing yards in the win, said SIU showed a lot of mental toughness.
“Football is about dealing with adversity and how you respond,” said Straub. “We got a bunch of guys who believe no matter what.”
SIU started the game like a house on fire, building up a 14-3 lead off the play of the defense. Straub’s two touchdown passes helped the fast start.
However, the momentum changed when cornerback Craig James made what looked like a great defensive play, but turned into a negative.
A third-down stop by James turned into a first down for WIU as he was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Leathernecks a first down, and set them up for a field goal.
SIU quickly responded, making the game 14-3 late in the first quarter, but disaster would strike again as Straub fumbled to end the first frame. The fumble led to a touchdown by WIU, and then 21 straight points.
At halftime, it looked like SIU’s offense was still stalling. But in the middle of the third quarter, a field goal by kicker Matt Sotiropoulos cut the score back to a two-possession game, and the defense came alive.
Western scored three points the rest of the way and the SIU offense played great to the final whistle.
A Jonathan Mixon score from three yards out make it a one-score game late in the third. Mixon finished with 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
After another Western field goal, SIU’s Billy Reed caught a 43-yard pass to pull SIU within three with about seven minutes to go. After a defensive stop, Lamprakes hauled in a 70-yard pass from Straub, which gave the Salukis a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Mixon broke a 54-yard scamper with just less than three minutes remaining and the game was over after an interception on other side of the ball.
“This win sends the seniors out well but it also gives momentum to our program,” said head coach Nick Hill.