CARBONDALE — Javon Williams Jr. and D.J. Davis helped resurrect SIU's offense Saturday night after a lackluster start.
UT Martin jumped on the Salukis 14-0 with 131 yards of total offense at Saluki Stadium in the opening quarter. But moments after catching a punt at his own 4 yard line, Williams responded with 52 yards rushing during a 96 yard drive that got SIU back in the swing. Williams' 1 yard touchdown run jumpstarted the Salukis, who had to play three quarters without injured starting quarterback Stone Labanowitz, and they went on to beat the Skyhawks 28-14.
"We were able to mix it up just enough, hit a couple pass plays," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "Stone went out after the first series, backup quarterback, and then his first throw of his career is a pick, and I felt like he settled down and was efficient. I'm proud of our guys, but like I told 'em, our goal was to be 1-0 and to win, and we did that, but we still got a lot of things to clean up."
Williams rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and Davis added 101 yards and a touchdown on 23 touches. It was the first time SIU had two 100 yard rushers since former quarterback Matt DeSomer had 135 yards on the ground and Davis had 126 against Indiana State in 2018. The Salukis lost that game, 24-21, but would not be denied in their home opener Saturday.
Wide receiver Avante Cox scored on a 10 yard end around with 3:32 to go in the third quarter to nearly put the game away. The Saluki defense did the rest, limiting the Skyhawks (1-2) to 145 yards the final three quarters.
Safety Joe Patterson had nine tackles and Qua Brown had seven for SIU (2-1), which won its first game at Saluki Stadium with the new turf. It was the Salukis' first win at home since 2017 after going 0-5 at home last year and snapped a seven game losing streak in Carbondale.
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Karé Lyles, a transfer from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, overcame an interception on his first pass in relief of Labanowitz to throw for 92 yards. Lyles completed 10 of 12 passes after the interception. Labanowitz hurt his throwing shoulder near the end of the first quarter and did not return. Hill said he was not sure if Labanowitz would be available next weekend at Arkansas State.
SIU sacked UT Martin quarterback John Bachus III four times and had 8.0 tackles for loss in its second straight victory. Cornerback Tre' Strong forced two fumbles and Brown forced another one. Safety Jeremy Chinn picked off a tipped pass in the back right corner of the end zone with 7:18 to play to all but seal the victory.
On a third-and-7 from the Saluki 8 yard line, Bachus rolled to his right and tried to find a receiver near the goal line. SIU had a defender right there, and the two tipped the ball up. Chinn, a 6-foot-2 senior, caught the ball and dragged his two feet like he was already in the NFL for his 11th career interception. Chinn moved into a tie for seventh place in school history with Donnell Daniel (1982-83) and Oyd Craddock (1976-79).
Bachus completed 11 of 13 passes for 127 yards in the first half and finished the game 18 of 28 for 212 yards. Peyton Logan rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and Jaimiee Bowe had 13 yards rushing and a touchdown in the opening two quarters.
SIU takes on its second FBS opponent this year this weekend at Arkansas State (1-2). The Red Wolves were demolished by third ranked Georgia 55-0 Saturday in Athens. The Salukis haven't played Arkansas State since 1995.