Mistakes cost Western in loss to Southern Illinois

Chicago News USA

Salukis force five turnovers, generate 580 yards of offense

Slow starts, turnovers and an inability to slow a Southern Illinois offense once it got going doomed Western Illinois on Saturday as the Leathernecks dropped to 1-10 this season, falling to Southern Illinois 45-21.

The Salukis were able to grind out 580 yards to total offense, 388 on the ground while keeping Western from getting much going consistently.

“That’s the game of football, it’s a momentum game and when it’s not in your favor, you have to find a way to stop it and typically to stop momentum you have to generate an explosive somewhere out of a unit, offense, defense or special teams and we weren’t able to do that all the time,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said. “We did that in some moments but not enough. There were a lot of moments when we did but we weren’t able to capitalize on it and that’s where we talked about team football, you stack plays on top of your units, the offense compliments your defense and special teams and we didn’t do that consistently enough today.”

It started to go south for the Leathernecks early as WIU fumbled the opening kickoff. 

Southern Illinois recovered and marched to the Western one, but the Leatherneck defense was able to keep SIU out of the end zone, making four straight stops at the one.

But Western could not take advantage as after a quick drive, the Salukis were able to get their first touchdown of the game on a D.J. Davis 13-yard run on their next possession.

Davis would run for 207 yards on 31 carries while Javon Williams would add 149 yards on 19 totes. 

The pair gave WIU headaches all afternoon, running around, over or through potential Leatherneck tacklers.

“Both those guys are really dynamic and really good and can break tackles, we were put in good spots by our defensive staff, we had a good scheme to stop it,” WIU linebacker Tom Rehfeld (eight tackles) said. “I don’t think we executed it to the best of our abilities and made tackles when we needed to make tackles and it led to big plays. You can’t win games when you let up that many big plays.”

Western trailed 10-0 but was able to get back in the game before half as Connor Sampson (22-36-1, 208 yards) connected with George Wahee on a short screen. 

Wahee would take it 59 yards to make it 10-7 with under two minutes to go before the break.

“We kind of had that in our back pocket for the right time to call it,” Sampson said. “We knew they had a tough time lining up against it, so go as quick as possible and get the ball to George and let him do the rest.”

The touchdown came after WIU received a short field after the Salukis stopped Western inside the one-yard line.

SIU would try to answer WIU’s score, but Rehfeld’s interception at the three-yard line right before half sent the game to the break at 10-7.

In the second half though, SIU’s offense would take over and WIU turnovers would make it easy for the Salukis, who would score 21 straight points to lead 31-7 at the end of three quarters.

“You look at the first half, I thought our defense did a really good job of creating a turnover right before the half, we were able to bow up a couple times in the first half, the very first goal-line stand, we were all the way down there fourth and goal and we couldn’t punch it in, we’re not taking advantage, we left a lot out there in the first half but I was proud of how the boys battled,” Elliott said. “Second half, it got sloppy, too many turnovers, a couple calls that didn’t go our way, we weren’t able to tackle we really struggled tackling in space and being in our gaps consistently and during the course of the second half, it kind of stacked up on us.”

Southern controlled the ball most of the game, using their strong run game, then mixing in the pass to keep Western off-balance.

In total, the Salukis dominated time of possession, holding the ball 40 minutes, 58 seconds to WIU’s 19:02.

“We were stopping it early in the game, that goal line stand, doing the same things, we were stopping it, then they started passing the ball on us and they started to have some success with that,” Rehfeld said. “We changed up a few things, then they went back to it and started running the ball.

“I know they have a lot of faith in No. 15 (Williams), he’s a workhorse and they trust he’s going to make guys miss and break tackles and we were there plenty of times to stop him but he did that, he made guys miss, he played well and we needed to make better plays. We made the right adjustments, but we didn’t execute to the best of our ability.”

A Dennis Houston touchdown reception from Sampson made it 31-14, but SIU would answer with a score to pretty much put away the game. 

Clint Ratkovich’s touchdown reception from Sampson made it 38-21, but another Saluki touchdown capped the scoring. 

Western would turn the ball over five times in the loss, with Southern turning the majority of those miscues into points.

“They’re a great defense, they played us well today, but we have to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, when we do that, anything can happen,” Sampson said.

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