CARBONDALE — The toughest part of SIU's football season still may be ahead, but after the Salukis' second straight win over a top-25 team, they were eager for their annual week off.
SIU (6-1, 4-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference), which remained fourth in the two major FCS polls Monday, has the latest bye week of anyone in the league (Week 8).
"It's definitely been a long season, including this one," said SIU wide receiver Landon Lenoir, after looking back at the 10 games the team played in the spring. "Going back to last season, as well. It's fine. Coach (Nick) Hill made a point about this (Friday), about the Marines and the Navy SEALs, and how hard they train, and when you think you're done, your body still has a lot more to give. I think our team kind of relied on that one, that message right there. I think we should be fine."
SIU is off until taking on No. 20/24 Northern Iowa (3-3, 1-2) Oct. 30. The Panthers, who have already had their bye week, play at No. 6/7 South Dakota State (5-1, 2-1) Saturday at 2 p.m. (ESPN3).
People are also reading…
A week after rallying from 20 points down to win at SDSU, SIU got everything it could handle from previously-ranked North Dakota (2-4, 0-3). The Salukis led the Fighting Hawks 21-7 with a minute left in the half, only to let them back in the game. UND scored with 47 seconds to go, and intercepted SIU quarterback Nic Baker near midfield. Tommy Schuster's 2-yard touchdown pass to Brock Boltmann with two seconds left helped the Hawks tie it up, but the Salukis never trailed in their 31-28 win.
Baker found Izaiah Hartrup for a 58-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage for either team, and kicker Nico Gualdoni hit a 46-yard field goal with 5:21 to play for the final margin.
SIU safety Qua Brown had a game-high 11 tackles for a defense that helped wrap up its third straight win. The Salukis got stops in overtime at Western Illinois, at SDSU, and kept the Hawks off the scoreboard the final five minutes at Saluki Stadium on Saturday.
"Every single week we knew we were gonna have some good opponents. Obviously this is the Valley," Brown said. "Great teams week in and week out, regardless of what team you might be facing. I can tell you one thing, it sure feels good to score last the last three weeks, to be on the winning side. It feels amazing."
With its fourth conference win without a loss, SIU stayed atop the MVFC standings at the halfway point. Two of the Salukis' final four games of the regular season are at home. SIU is hopeful to get a few guys back either for the game at Northern Iowa or the following week against Missouri State. Starting fullback Jacob Garrett and linebacker Bryson Strong, the team's leading tackler in the spring 2021 season, are recovering from offseason surgeries and haven't played all season. All-American wide receiver Avante Cox missed the last two games after injuring his shoulder at Western Illinois on Oct. 2.
"The bye week's comin' at a really good time, as far as our guys have really been at it. We've got the latest bye week of anyone in our conference," Hill said. "We've been a little bit beat up. You could feel that this week. That's been my message to the staff, and for the players, and it's not just the time, but the type of games we've played in are taxing on your mind and mentally. But I told our guys (Friday) night, there's more in us."
On Twitter: @THefferman