CARBONDALE — The scene was all too familiar to SIU football fans.
The Salukis found themselves trailing 21-20. The defense came up with a key stop, giving the ball back to the offense, 76 yards from victory and 2:55 to get there.
A Youngstown State penalty moved the ball to the SIU 38. On second down, Matt DeSomer went back to pass, but the offensive line couldn’t hold back Justus Reed. The junior defensive end stripped the ball from DeSomer as he started his throwing motion.
The ball landed a few yards behind DeSomer. Reed picked the ball off the Saluki Stadium turf and jogged untouched into the end zone. The play gave the Penguins a 28-20 lead they made stand up for the final 1:44.
“Again, just not good enough to win a close game,” said SIU coach Nick Hill. “We did some good things and we battled, but I told them we’re not in to moral victories. We’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to get over coming close and not making the plays that are needed to win. I sit up here every single week and there are a few plays that affect the outcome of the game. The way we ended the second half is not very good.”
Among the good things the Salukis did was create turnovers and limit penalties.
SIU created four turnovers. A Craig James interception and a Malik Haynes fumble recovery set up the Salukis offense inside the 50-yard line in the second half, but those two turnovers netted just three points, a 29-yard Nico Gualdoni field goal that pulled SIU to within 21-20 with 9:21 to play.
For the game, SIU scored on all three excursions to the end zone, but netted just 13 points.
The Salukis are still without starting quarterback Sam Straub. Matt DeSomer, who played safety most of the season, took most of the snaps at quarterback for SIU.
“A little bit (having an inexperienced quarterback), and part of that is playing Youngstown State,” Hill said. “I’ve said this before and I believe it, they are the toughest to go against since I’ve been here. Their scheme, the way the match coverages, especially for a quarterback, when you’re trying to read that.
“They play a man-type structure but they pass it off. Sometimes you just really have to grind it. It’s not like you ever turn on the film against Youngstown and say, ‘Look at that guy, he’s wide open. We missed him.’ You have to make plays.”
The Salukis converted just 1-of-11 third down opportunities.
“You’re never going to be successful doing that,” Hill said. “The ‘D’ coordinator over there is just licking his chops if you can’t run the ball on first and second down and you’re sitting there on third and seven all day. One of 11 is terrible. You’re not going to win many games.”
The same was true on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense created four turnovers, but also yielded 436 yards. Tevin McCaster rushed for 158 yards and Damoun Patterson caught four passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns. McCaster slashed through the right side of the Saluki defensive line all day.
“We can’t give up 252 yards of rushing,” Hill said. “We just can’t do it. We’ve got to get that fixed. We’ll get the same thing next week. They were just really the same plays – the stretch play. We just couldn’t keep an edge. That’s not good enough. Teams can’t just line up and run stretch for 6-10 yards a pop.”
“At the end of the day it comes down to giving up too many yards,” said safety Jeremy Chinn. “We gave up explosive plays, big runs, a big touchdown catch early in the game. We have to limit those explosive plays. That’s really what it came down defensively.”
So, despite the four turnovers, two field goals by Gualdoni and a pair of rushing touchdowns by DeSomer, the Salukis fell short once again.
“It’s very frustrating,” Chinn said. “We keep on hitting the wall. I don’t know what the wall is, but we just need to get past it.”
The Salukis are now 4-6 and close the season at Western Illinois next week.