CHAMPAIGN — Forced to air it out at Illinois, SIU nearly came all the way behind fifth-year senior quarterback Kory Faulkner on Saturday.
Down 39-17 with five minutes and 30 seconds to go in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium, Faulkner threw for two touchdowns and just missed a third in the Salukis’ 42-34 loss. The 6-foot-4, 227-pound right-hander hooked up with wide receiver John Lantz for his first career touchdown and led two other scoring drives before coming up short on a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the final minute.
“We knew there were opportunities there,” Faulkner said. “This being my third year with a lot of those guys out on the field, we’ve all been doing this for a while together, so we’ve worked hard in the offseason and got our timing down. If a team wants to force us to pass this year, I think it’s going to be something we can hang our hat on.”
Thomas Kinney’s 41-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter pulled SIU within 15. The Saluki defense then came up with its second turnover of the game when it sacked backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole at the Fighting Illini 31-yard line. O’Toole, in for starter Nathan Scheelhaase to, presumably, run the clock out, lost the ball after linebacker Tyler Williamson hit him.
Brandon Williams recovered, and three players later, tight end MyCole Pruitt made a diving catch in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
“I think the players got a little more comfortable with the environment, and who we were playing, and realized what we can do when the opportunities presented themselves,” SIU coach Dale Lennon said. “Once we figured that out, then we started performing.”
Kinney’s extra point pulled the Salukis within eight in front of an announced crowd of 42,175 at Memorial Stadium, but it turned out to be their last points of the day. Faulkner’s jump-ball pass to Adam Fuehne in the back right corner of the end zone bounced off his hands on a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Illinois ran off the last 40 seconds to seal its 16th straight home-opening victory.
Faulkner completed 25-of-40 for 312 yards, three scores and no interceptions. He connected with eight different receivers and even caught a 29-yard pass, himself, off a pass from Lantz.
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