CARBONDALE — Just when Youngstown State thought it had Javon Williams Jr. figured out, the former quarterback pulled out another trick Saturday.
Williams rushed for a touchdown and caught a 73-yard score in the first half, and when he pulled the ball on a fourth-and-2 and tried to run for the first down, the Penguins lined up to stop him. Then the 6-foot-1, 239-pound redshirt freshman stepped back, and floated the football to a wide-open Jacob Garrett. Garrett, a sophomore fullback that Williams runs behind all the time, caught the ball near the 25 and coasted into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown.
"We set the play up," Williams said. "You saw the play before that when I ran the counter outside, and me and that corner met up. When I pulled it and started to go on my counter, and saw that corner and safety coming up, teamed up, I was, like, 'OK, I'll just throw the ball.' So I threw the ball, got the 41-yard touchdown. All the credit to J.G. for catching it and making a play."
SIU's 35-10 mauling of the 18th-ranked Penguins on Homecoming was full of big plays, mostly by the former Centralia High School quarterback. Williams rushed for a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter, turned a short pass from Kare Lyles into a spectacular 73-yard romp in the second, and added his first touchdown pass as a Saluki before it was all over. He finished SIU's first Missouri Valley Football Conference win of the season with 63 yards on the ground and a team-high 147 all-purpose yards.
Williams' 73-yard touchdown reception was the most impressive. Lyles floated the ball over a pulled-in YSU defense, where Williams caught it near the 40-yard line. He got all the way to the Penguins' 25 before safety Zaire Jones tried to take him down. Williams waited until he got about a half-yard away from him near the sideline before delivering a stiff-arm the 6-foot, 200-pound junior might not soon forget. From there it was smooth sailing to the end zone and a 27-3 lead with 8:44 to go in the first half.
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"I've always been around special guys like that," Lyles said. "Guys that are able to make plays after the catch. I knew once I got Javon the ball in his hands, I knew he was going to do something with it. The great thing about that play, once he catches it, even if he caught it and fell down, it was going to be a 20-yard pass play, an explosive play. It gets the ball rolling, and gets the drive going. Special guys make special plays. No. 15 is a special player."
D.J. Davis, back with a brace on his dislocated elbow, rushed for a team-high 70 yards on a team-high 18 carries. Lyles threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns on just nine attempts, completing seven passes. He was sacked three times. Williams tried to add to his 41-yard touchdown pass in the second half, but was intercepted on a ball that put YSU (4-3, 0-3 MVFC) at its own 6-yard line.
The Penguins struggled to move the football most of the day against SIU's defense. The Salukis (3-4, 1-2) gave up a 31-yard field goal off YSU's opening drive and a touchdown right before the half, but shut the door in the second half. The Penguins managed just 62 yards of total offense in the final two quarters. SIU had 12.0 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks, two each by linebackers Bryson Strong and Makel Calhoun and defensive end Chucky Sullivan.
"We were tired of it. We were 2-4. Now we're 3-4," said Calhoun, who had four tackles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. "We're just not that team. We're not a team that's gonna quit. We're not a team that's gonna lose. We just bulked up and just looked at each other. We gotta love each other as brothers, play like brothers, and have your brothers' back, and we went out and played like it."