CARBONDALE — The SIU football team saved its best for last, and nearly added to a record-breaking opening weekend for the Football Championship Subdivision against its upper-tier opponents.

FCS teams, which have 63 scholarships compared to 85 for Football Bowl Subdivision teams like Illinois, won a record seven games against their higher-level foes over the weekend. Georgia State, a program in its second year of transitioning to the FBS that is led by former Indiana State coach Trent Miles, lost to FCS team Samford, but is not considered an official member of the upper level. All seven of the FCS teams’ wins were on the road, and two of the victories came from members of the Missouri Valley Foot-ball Conference.

Top-ranked North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS national champs which had beaten its last three FBS opponents, made it four in a row with a rally against Kansas State on Friday night, 24-21. Northern Iowa beat Iowa State on Saturday, 28-20, behind running back David Johnson’s four touchdowns.

The Salukis’ upset hopes at Illinois fell with 40 seconds to play at Memorial Stadium when Kory Faulkner’s fourth-down pass to tight end Adam Fuehne bounced off his hands in the end zone. Illinois ran out the clock to seal a 42-34 win that appeared certain with about five minutes to go in the third quarter.

V’Angelo Bentley’s 100-yard kickoff return, the first kickoff return for a touchdown allowed by the Salukis in 13 years, put the Fighting Illini up 39-17 with five minutes and 30 seconds to go in the third quarter. SIU then outscored Illinois, 17-3, the rest of the way behind two of Faulkner’s three touchdown passes and a 41-yard field goal into the wind by new kicker Thomas Kinney.

“We never even thought about giving up out there,” said Faulkner, who completed 25-of-40 passes for 312 yards. “Maybe Illinois thought it was over when they returned that kick. We just knew we had to go out there and put points on the board, and that’s what we did.”

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087 / On Twitter: @THefferman

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