MACOMB — Nic Baker was at his best when No. 7 SIU needed him to be Saturday at Western Illinois. Landon Lenoir and Jakari Patterson may have been even better in a game that ended on a two-point conversion try at Hanson Field.
Baker, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the Salukis' 21-point first half, shook off five sacks to toss the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Baker faked a handoff off the snap on SIU's first play in the extra session, and lofted a 25-yard pass to Lenoir in the left-corner of the end zone for the score. Nico Gualdoni, who missed a potentially-game-winning 45-yard field goal on the last play of regulation, hit the extra point for a 31-24 lead.
The Leathernecks (1-4, 1-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference), who are never out of a game with quarterback Connor Sampson, wide receiver Dennis Houston and a resurgent defense, scored on its first play in overtime, too. Myles Wanza, who rushed for a game-high 89 yards on 13 carries, got through a small hole on the left side and broke a tackle before sprinting into the end zone for the 25-yard score. WIU wasted no time going for the win, lining up for the two-point conversion in front of a Homecoming crowd of 4,107 fans.
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The Leathernecks picked a poor play, however, for the win, and Patterson was able to snuff it out to end the game. Sampson took the snap and threw a pass about three yards behind the line of scrimmage to Houston, who had to try to run it in from about six yards out when the pass play he looked for wasn't there. Patterson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Cincinnati, wrapped up Houston near the 3 to wrap up SIU's fourth victory of the season.
"I don't think we played our prettiest football," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "I liked the way the guys came out after the lightning delay. I liked their approach. I felt like 96 total yards, this offense can get going. They're streaky. They've shown that, and we just didn't do our part in that second half."
SIU (4-1, 2-0 MVFC) led 21-0 with 9:05 left in the first half and 24-10 with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Gualdoni's 37-yard field goal to put the Salukis up 14 points proved big, as WIU scored 14 points in less than seven minutes. Sampson completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Daniels and a 12-yard flip to running back Ludovick Choquette to help tie the game with 6:50 left.
SIU got all the way to the WIU 23, but a false start penalty pushed it back another five yards. Gualdoni's 45-yard attempt on the final play of regulation appeared to have the distance, but went well wide left.
Baker finished 26 of 43 for 240 yards, two scores and two interceptions. The Salukis entered the game with eight allowed sacks, and gave up five against WIU. Lenoir had 103 yards receiving on five catches, with two touchdowns. Donnavan Spencer, who had a 4-yard touchdown run in the first half, was SIU's leading rusher with 32 yards on 11 carries.
SIU lost All-American receiver Avante Cox in the first half to a shoulder injury, as well as starting center Calvin Francis Jr. in the second half. The Salukis also lost backup receiver Jerron Rollins in the second half, and didn't play with starting defensive tackle Kevin Glajchen.
Sampson was picked off twice but finished 20 of 31 for 192 yards. He was sacked four times.
Lenoir caught a team-high three passes for 55 yards in the first half. Rollins had three catches for 22 yards, and Izaiah Hartrup had three catches for five yards in the first half. Spencer was SIU's top rusher with 22 yards on five carries.
WIU rushed for zero net yards on 10 attempts and threw for 92 yards in the first half. The Leathernecks scored their only touchdown of the half on defense. Outside linebacker Jalen Powe dropped back into zone coverage near the sideline, and read an out pattern. Powe stepped in front of Baker's pass intended for Rollins, broke Rollins' attempt at a tackle, and returned it 29 yards for the score with 4:06 left in the half.
Kicker Mason Laramie's 49-yard field goal put the Leathernecks on the board with 4:51 left in the half. It was four yards shy of tying his career-high, a 53-yarder against Illinois State in 2020-21.
SIU is next at No. 2/3 South Dakota State Oct. 9. Kickoff in Brookings, South Dakota, is set for 2 p.m.
On Twitter: @THefferman