BROOKINGS – No. 2 South Dakota State led 20-0 against No. 7 Southern Illinois Saturday, but the game came down to a two-point conversion in overtime.
The Jackrabbits went for two trailing 42-41 in the first overtime and Chris Oladokun tried to find Zach Heins, but the ball fell incomplete, and the Jacks suffered their first loss of the season.
“Our defense had been on the field a ton,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “I just felt that the next time we go, we got to go for two. That’s not my call. [Offensive coordinator Jason Eck] plans those things and rationalized with it. If it’s the right call you’re not asking me that, if it’s the wrong call we get questioned. You work really hard all week to prepare for those things and then when they occur, you make the decision to go for it.
“Our throw was to a 6’7 tight end in Zach Heins, really tough to defend. Without watching the film, I’ll give you my subjective evaluation. We threw it a little low and we thought the guy was draped all over Zach in the end zone, but it’s humans throwing the ball and humans making the calls. I’m not going to look back.”
Donnavan Spencer dashed 10 yards to the end zone to put SIU up in overtime.
The Jacks led 35-28 with 3:36 left in the game when Pierre Strong was stuffed on third and seven from the SIU 20. Cole Frahm then trotted out for a 37-yard field goal attempt and the kick was blocked, giving SIU a chance to drive 70 yards with two timeouts and tie the game.
“We were going for seven,” Stiegelmeier said. “They gave us a look that was different [on third down]. They’d been giving us a certain look on that play and then when we motioned to it, it was a different look and we just didn’t block it up as well as we could have. We would have much rather milked the clock more if we could’ve and won the game with a touchdown, but that wasn’t the case.”
The Salukis were faced with two fourth downs on the drive, a fourth and six and fourth and 11, and picked both of them up. Nic Baker then found Landon Lenoir for a 19-yard touchdown, Lenoir’s second touchdown of the day, and the score was tied with 34 seconds left.
SDSU had a play that put them at the SIU 40 with seven seconds left, but the play was called back due to a blindside block penalty on Garret Greenfield. The Jacks kneeled on the next play, which took the game to overtime.
“… The one [penalty] was huge when we were in the two-minute [drill] and got called for a blindside block,” Stiegelmeier said. “… I thought what Garret did with 34 seconds left was fine, but again I’m not an official, and [officials] aren’t coaches. That’s not why we lost the game.”
SDSU led 20-0 with 9:12 left in the first half after a 20-yard touchdown run from Pierre Strong Jr., a 19-yard touchdown from Strong to Jadon Janke and a pair of field goals from Frahm.
SIU would then strike with a 61-yard touchdown pass from Baker to Jerron Rollins to make it 20-7. Oladokun then threw his first interception of the year and the Salukis would capitalize. Baker found Lenoir from 18 yards out to close the gap to 20-14 heading into halftime.
SDSU forced a three and out on SIU’s first possession of the second half. The Jacks then took the ball into Saluki territory, but Oladokun was picked off for second time.
The Salukis then drove all the way to the down to the SDSU four yard line, but faced a fourth down. SIU elected to kick a field goal, but the Jacks were called for an illegal formation because they were lined up over the center.
SIU then decided to go for it from the SDSU two, and Javon Williams Jr. ran it to the goal line, jumped in the air, and was hit and the ball popped free.
Malik Lofton picked it up for the Jacks and returned it 98 yards to the house to give the Jacks a 28-14 lead with 3:38 remaining in the third quarter.
The Salukis drove down inside the five yard line again on the next driv, but the defense stood tall again and forced a turnover on downs.
SIU didn’t let the momentum shift too much as the Salukis forced a three and out. They then marched down the field and scored with 10:38 left in the game on a 19-yard pass from Baker to Rollins to make it 28-21.
The Jacks responded on the first play of their next drive with an 85-yard touchdown run from Strong to make it 35-21 with 10:18 left.
It didn’t take long for the Salukis to answer as Spencer ran 63 yards to the end zone to cut the lead back to one score with 9:38 left in the game. SDSU then took six minutes off the clock before the Frahm field goal attempt.
The Jacks outgained SIU 322-159 in the first half, but fumbled inside the SIU 10 yard line and had to settle for two field goals. Strong said SDSU was hurting themselves inside the red zone in the first half.
“We were just killing ourselves. They blitz right into it and we didn’t pick it up in the backfield, jumping offside, holding. … We stopped ourselves,” Strong said.
For the game, SDSU had a narrow advantage in total yards [534-521]. The Jacks had 182 yards rushing with Strong leading the way with 162 yards on 20 carries.
Oladokun was 23-of-31 with 358 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Tight end Tucker Kraft led the way for SDSU with 10 catches for 124 yards. Jadon Janke finished with three catches for 117 yards and Strong had four catches for 117 yards.
Baker was 28-of-45 with 359 yards and four touchdowns. Lenoir had 10 catches for 147 yards and Rollins had four receptions for 104 yards. Spencer led the Salukis on the ground as he had 103 of their 183 yards on 10 carries.
Adam Bock led the Jackrabbit defense with 17 total tackles and a forced fumble. Isaiah Stalbird had six tackles and forced fumble. Ryan Van Marel and Caleb Sanders also had forced fumbles, and Xavier Ward had a fumble recovery.
With the loss, SDSU (4-1,1-1) dropped to fifth place in the Missouri Valley. The Jacks will likely have to run the table if they want to win the conference and secure home field advantage throughout the FCS playoffs.
Last year, SDSU lost to North Dakota early in the season and won out the rest of the way, and picked up the No. 1 seed in the FCS Playoffs. Strong said this is the same situation.
“We don’t really have to get back on track. We know what have to do. We did this last season with UND at this time and nothing changed at practice. It’s just time to lock in because we got knocked down today and it’s time to bring our A-game from now on,” he said.
SDSU will travel on the road next week to take on Western Illinois at noon on Saturday. Stiegelmeier said this will be a tough loss to get over, but he believes his team will be just fine.
“Our team is full of winners and what we’ll do is, we’ll watch it, we’ll learn from it and won’t make excuses. Everybody that could have played better or coached better will make those corrections or work towards making those corrections, and then play in the present,” Stiegelmeier said.