There is no margin for error in what could be the best conference in FCS Football: the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Teams that make mistakes in games usually see those miscues come back to haunt them. The Salukis learned that lesson Saturday as several mistakes in the first quarter allowed the Missouri State Bears to jump out to a big lead and never look back.
The Saluki defense started out strong forcing a three-and-out in the first series. The offense then went and scored on a three-play drive, capped off with a Cameron Walter six-yard touchdown run. The Salukis had great field position thanks to fair-catch interference call and a 25-yard run by Walter in the drive.
All the momentum Southern garnered in that first series was quickly swept away as MSU scored the next 24 points — all in the first quarter.
After the Saluki score, Bear returner Matt Rush took the ensuing kickoff to the Saluki 14-yard line. Two plays later, MSU running back Jason Randall scored on a 10-yard run. Next, after a three-and-out by SIU, punter Lane Reazin’s kick only traveled 20 yards.
Once MSU possessed the ball, quarterback Peyton Huslig connected with wide receiver Lorenzo Thomas for 40 yards to the Saluki 17. SIU’s defense stiffened to hold Missouri State to a field goal. On the Saluki’s next drive, quarterback Tanner Hearn was sacked and fumbled, coughing the ball up to MSU at the Saluki 16. Three plays later, Erik Furmanek scored on an 8-yard scamper.
“You score and then you give up a long return that leads to a TD,” SIU Coach Nick Hill said. “Then next series, you have a bad punt and give them a second short field. Then, you turn it over and give up another score.”
The Salukis didn’t fold after a treacherous first quarter, down 24-7 after a Huslig pass connected with Malik Earl for a 57-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Hearn took the Salukis 83 yards on 9 plays, ending with a six-yard strike to SIU wide receiver Connor Iwema to make it 24-14. SIU received some energy from all-purpose player Matt DeSomer on that drive with carries of 11 and 13 yards, and a 42-yard hookup with running back D.J. Davis.
“DeSomer is such a tough kid,” Hill said. “He really gave us a spark.”
With 55 seconds left in the first half, MSU drove to the SIU 18, mostly because of a 44-yard pass to Earl. A Zach Drake field goal put the Bears up 27-14.
About halfway through the third quarter, Hearn led the Salukis on another long drive — 11-plays, 80 yards — ending with a 29-yard throw to wideout Darnell James.
The Salukis would come back to take the lead in this game after a 47-yard touchdown throw to Davis. However, that lead was short-lived due to mistakes coming back to bite them in the fourth quarter.
Immediately after the go-ahead score, SIU’s defense allowed back-to-back 70-yard drives resulting in a touchdown and field goal. Southern had a chance down eight with 55 seconds left, but a holding penalty on second down put the Salukis behind the chains and an incompletion on fourth down ended SIU’s chances.
A short memory will be required by the Salukis as it hosts Youngstown State at 1 p.m., on Saturday at Saluki Stadium on Military Appreciation Night. Youngstown is also 4-5 on the season, but is coming off a 66-24 victory at Indiana State. The Salukis are hoping for two straight wins to end the season to finish above .500.