BROOKINGS, S.D. — Nic Baker threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns at No. 2/3 South Dakota State Saturday, but it might have been about 15 yards on the ground that saved No. 7/8 SIU at Dykhouse Stadium.
Baker rolled left on a fourth-and-11 from his own 41, and was nearly sacked by Jackrabbit defensive end Cade Terveer near the hashmark. The sneaky-quick, 5-foot-9, 194-pound Baker slipped away, rolled right about 15 yards toward the other sideline, and found Izaiah Hartrup for an 18-yard gain in the middle of the field for the first down. The Salukis went on to tie the game off Baker's 19-yard touchdown toss to Landon Lenoir near the left pylon, and won 42-41 in overtime when Chris Oladokun's last pass fell incomplete.
SDSU (4-1, 1-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) found tight end Tucker Kraft, the 6-5 thorn in the Salukis' side, for an 11-yard touchdown on its overtime possession. The Jackrabbits decided right then to try to win the game from the 3-yard line. They lined 6-7 tight end Zach Heins in the slot on the right side of the line, and had him take a direct route toward the back line of the end zone. SIU linebacker Branson Combs hit him near the goal line and rode him into the end zone. Both guys were wrestling when Oladokun released the football, which bounced off Combs' back to end the game.
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Baker finished the win 28 of 45 passing for 359 yards and four touchdowns. His 46 yards rushing on 12 carries helped SIU (5-1, 3-0) extend drives, and come back from two double-digit deficits on the road.
"That's just Nic Baker. That's why we recruited him," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "Some people have it, and some people don't. Nic Baker has it. I felt like he took the next step, but he's gonna be challenged to do it over and over again. Made really good decisions in the pocket, of just taking off and running. Last week, and we talked about this, he got out of the pocket and could have took off running, but instead he threw a pick."
The Salukis picked off Oladokun twice and recovered a fumble to stop another Jackrabbit drive. SIU scored 14 points off SDSU's first three turnovers of the season. SDSU scored 15 points off two lost fumbles by the Salukis, who rallied from 20-0 down in the first half and 35-21 down with 10:18 to play.
"I've played in some pretty crazy games, even Western Illinois and ISU, but a top-10 matchup that went like that, getting down 20-0...," Baker said. "I'll bet even some of our fans counted us out."
Baker found Jerron Rollins for a 63-yard touchdown down the middle of the field for SIU's first points of the game. He hit Lenoir, who had his second straight 100-yard game with 147 yards off 14 catches, to help the Salukis get within six with 5:25 left in the half. SIU got the second-half kickoff, but didn't score.
The Salukis pulled within three after Nico Gualdoni hit a 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter, but then things got crazy. After SDSU was called for a penalty for lining up illegally over the snapper, SIU was given the option to keep the points or get the ball at the 2-yard line on fourth down. Hill took the points off the board and went for the lead, when disaster struck.
Javon Williams Jr. looked to throw on the play, but pulled the ball down and headed for the goal line after he saw a hole. Williams jumped from near the 2 and extended the football toward the goal line, but fumbled. SDSU cornerback Malik Lofton picked up the ball near the 3 and returned it down the left sideline 97 yards for a stunning touchdown. Kicker Cole Frahm's extra point made it 28-14 with 3:38 left in the third, but SIU never quit.
The Salukis pulled within seven off Baker's 19-yard touchdown pass to Zach Gibson. SDSU's Pierre Strong Jr., who continued to pummel SIU in his career, broke off an 85-yard touchdown run that might have sealed the win for the Jackrabbits. Donnavan Spencer, the Salukis' workhorse in the second half after not getting a carry in the first, broke off a 63-yard touchdown after squeezing through a hole on the right side. Spencer scored SIU's only touchdown in overtime after taking a handoff from Baker and squirting through the middle from 10 yards out.
"He's really a special player," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. "Not only with his feet and his arm, and throwing on point. He and Lenoir were connected today, in a huge way, two really good players. He's a threat."
Spencer rushed for 103 of SIU's 183 on the ground against SDSU, which had allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season entering the game. Spencer had two himself and averaged 10.3 yards a carry.
Strong had 162 yards and two touchdowns off 20 carries for the Jackrabbits, who lost at home for the first time since 2019. Strong also threw a touchdown pass to Jadon Janke in the first half. Oladokun completed 23 of 31 passes for 358 yards and the touchdown to Kraft, who caught 11 passes for 124 yards.
The Salukis return home to face No. 13/15 North Dakota (2-3, 0-2) next weekend for Homecoming. The Fighting Hawks lost 20-13 at unranked South Dakota Saturday. SIU's 2021 Hall of Fame class is also expected to appear at the football game.
On Twitter: @THefferman