AMHERST, Mass. — SIU football coach Nick Hill said he found it hard to turn away from 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Davis, but vowed to get guys like Javon Williams Jr., Avante Cox and Romeir Elliott more touches at UMass.
All four had their moments at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, but Williams had three that Saluki fans will remember for a long time. The former Centralia High School quarterback turned a pass in the left flat into an 85 yard touchdown, and broke two tackles on the way to a 64 yard score to push SIU into the win column in an unlikely place. Williams' 64 yard score helped the Salukis go up 24-13 early in the third quarter, and the 6-foot-1, 239-pound redshirt freshman added a 3 yard run in the third in SIU's 45-20 victory.
It was SIU's first win over an FBS opponent since Hill led the Salukis past Northern Illinois 34-31 in 2007 and rejuvenated a program decimated in a 44-26 loss at No. 17 Southeast Missouri State to start the season.
Williams rushed for 68 yards on six carries and caught three passes for 103 yards, 85 of them 26 seconds into the second quarter. His 64 yard run with 11:47 to play in the third put SIU (1-1) up two scores.
"It was a big change," Williams said. "Coach talked all week that this team was going to run like we run, so, what we did, we just went out there and executed."
Davis just missed his second 100 yard game with 85 yards on 21 carries. He also caught five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. Elliott had 57 yards on seven carries, most of them in the second half. SIU rushed for 237 yards on 44 carries, an average of 5.4 per carry.
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SIU forced two interceptions, one each off starting quarterback Randall West and backup Andrew Brito, and came up with a couple of big plays to deny the Minutemen (0-2) their first win of the year. Davis fumbled on his first carry of the second half with the Salukis nursing a 17-13 lead, but senior safety Jeremy Chinn reached up and nabbed West's pass near the 10 yard line. Chinn returned it to the SIU 41, and Williams went 64 yards for the score after a 5 yard false start penalty.
"We gotta be able to do a better job on the drive coming out, but D.J. fumbled, and Chinn's pick got us going right back," Hill said. "We were able to make 'em pay, and get points off turnovers, and then we get another pick. So, I felt like their maturity showed right there."
The defense came up with another big stop when UMass went for it on a fourth-and-2 at its own 49. Sophomore linebacker Bryson Strong, in for the injured Bryce Notree, came up and stopped Bilal Ally for a 1 yard gain to get the ball back.
The Minutemen were 1 for 4 on fourth down and 6 of 17 on third down.
"First off we need to be better on third down," UMass coach Walt Bell said. "If we can extend some drives and be on the field longer, we'll be in good shape. Secondly, we need to make routine plays. If we can do those two things a lot of our problems will alleviate themselves. The biggest thing is overall team improvement."
Elliott rushed for 37 yards to get the Salukis to the UMass 14 after the fourth down stop. After a 1 yard rush, SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz faked the handoff and flipped it to 6-foot-8 tight end Nigel Kilby in the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown. Griffin Cerra's kick put SIU up 38-13 with 14:16 to play.
Labanowitz threw for two touchdowns and 200 yards in the first half and finished 19 of 26 for 265 and four scores. Labanowitz was sacked once.
SIU returns home for a Sept. 14 date against UT Martin (1-1) at Saluki Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. The Skyhawks fell at No. 11 Florida, an FBS program, 45-0 Saturday.
On Twitter: @THefferman