CARBONDALE — The first War For The Wheel between SIU and Southeast Missouri State came down to the final play Saturday night, but it was years in the making.
"Two years ago I really wanted to play for a trophy," SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said earlier this week. "It made sense. People do it all the time in college football. Now we're doing it. I know our players are excited about it."
The Redhawks (2-1), which hadn't won in Carbondale for eight years, rallied to beat the Salukis (1-2,) 48-44 with a last-minute drive. Quarterback Daniel Santacaterina rolled right, then passed back to his left to a wide-open tight end, Austin Crump. Crump turned upfield, and beat SIU's defense to the left pylon with 25 seconds to play.
SIU quarterback Sam Straub's Hail Mary pass to the end zone on the final play was broken up. The Salukis lost to their regional rivals for only the third time in the last 13 meetings.
SIU coach Nick Hill said the game for a 48-inch old ship's wheel made a lot of sense.
"The schools are 45 minutes apart, two Division I schools, so any time you have that, it's a natural rivalry," he said earlier this week. "It's a great game that we should play every single year. It's good for both fan bases and I know the school pride of playing each other."
The wheel rested on SIU's sideline until the final pass fell incomplete, and SEMO's players were able to seize it until next year's game. The two teams decided on an old ship's wheel because they used to take boats across the Mississippi River to play each other in a series that dates back to 1909. The Salukis and Redhawks are each other's longest-standing rivalries.
SIU got the wheel from Amazon.com — where else? — and had it painted, according to Marissa Poppe, the assistant athletic director for marketing at SIU. Fans were able to take pictures with it before the game.
"We wanted to make it feel as authentic as possible," Poppe said. "(Sports information director) Tom Weber helped find a few different options. Honestly, we ordered a couple. The first one that came in we felt like it was too small. We wanted it to be big and substantial, make it something that you really wanted to work for."
Next year's game is scheduled to take place at Houck Field in Cape Girardeau.
Black Out Cancer deadline Monday night: The deadline for bidding for the Black Out Cancer game jerseys ends at 8 p.m. Monday night on salukisblackoutcancer.com.
Fans can bid to put the name of a loved one on the back of an actual jersey the Salukis will wear against South Dakota on Sept. 29. The top 102 bidders will be able to win a special Under Armour jersey. Proceeds from this year's jersey sales will go toward the Coach Kill Fund, which helps cancer patients and their families in the region.
Now in its eighth year, the Black Out Cancer game has raised more than $200,000 toward fighting the disease.