CARBONDALE — If the SIU vs. South Dakota State game had wheels, they would have fallen off at 10:56 of the second quarter.
The Salukis had tied the game at 10 at the 14:11 mark, and the defense forced a Jackrabbit punt. However, the SIU offense failed to cash in, resulting in Don Gardner blocking a Lane Reazin punt. Jadon Janke fell on the ball in the end zone, triggering a 21-point avalanche and a 30-17 halftime deficit.
The Jackrabbits rode that wave to a 57-38 win over 2-8 SIU.
“We’ve ended the half the last two weeks pretty well,” said SIU coach Nick Hill. “That’s why you defer. That’s why you take the ball the second half. You try to find a way to flip the game at the end of the first half. Play good defense, end with the ball or make them have enough time to have it. You try to steal a possession there. We weren’t able to do it.”
Despite SIU’s hiccup at the end of the first half, the Salukis did adhere to the second part of that plan.
D.J. Davis, who had just 38 yards rushing in the first half, ripped off a 32-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. He had another run for 18 yards on the drive before quarterback Matt DeSomer scored on a one-yard plunge.
The Salukis closed to 30-24 on that score, but the SIU defense simply couldn’t hold the Jackrabbits.
It took South Dakota State just 1:22 to answer on a 42-yard pass from Taryn Christian to Cade Johnson. The Salukis gave up huge chunks of yardage on the day with the Jackrabbits scoring on plays of 72, 56, 42, 42 and 24 yards.
Pierre Strong, who rushed for 188 yards, scored on runs of 72, 43 and 24 yards.
“We were going to give up some stuff, but we have to stop the run,” Hill said. “I think that is where it stops and starts. That’s disappointing. He (Christion) only had 13 completions … 26 yards per completion. You have to make them earn it. That’s the thing, the explosive plays for touchdowns. They were able to just get it over with and score on those big explosive plays.”
Still, SIU was able to cut the deficit to 35-31 on DeSomer’s fourth rushing touchdown of the game at the 9:40 mark of the third quarter. He became the first quarterback in SIU history to rush for four scores in a game.
But, Strong answered with a 43-yard touchdown run on the next possession.
“I’ve gone through different emotions over the year,” Hill said. “I’m done being frustrated. We don’t have time to be frustrated. We have to find answers to what is going on. We’re preparing to play the No. 1 team in the country right after this, on the road. We have to give them our best.”
Despite the frustration of the loss, the Salukis had some notable personal accomplishments.
Davis became the first SIU back to rush for over 200 yards in a game since Cameron Walter accomplished the feat in 2014. He also became the first back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Jewel Hampton in 2011. And, the Salukis did that against a team yielding just 130 yards per game.
“We knew we were going to have to run the ball,” Hill said. “We’re not going to sit back there, spread you out and start throwing it all over. You have to have some balance. I thought we did that and for the most part did some decent things on offense.”
And, there was DeSomer’s four-touchdown effort.
“That’s nothing surprising,” Davis said. “DeSomer is DeSomer. He’s an amazing athlete at quarterback. He can run, throw, he can do it all. He’s a great leader. It’s nothing surprising, he’s just doing what he always does.”
The loss ended SIU’s home season. The Dawgs finish the regular season next week at top-ranked North Dakota State.