SIU’s 48-44 loss to SEMO Saturday night was a gut punch for a number of reasons.
First, the Salukis had every opportunity to win. SIU committed four turnovers. The Salukis had 100 yards in penalties. The offense created critical penalties inside the SEMO 10-yard line. The defense had a three-point lead with 1:52 to go and couldn’t keep Southeast Missouri State out of the end zone.
As a former Southern Illinoisan sports editor once wrote, “The Salukis shot themselves in the foot so many times they ran out of toes.”
At this point, it’s premature to say the loss will keep SIU out of the playoffs, but it certainly made the task exponentially more difficult.
Playing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, teams have to emerge from the non-conference portion of the schedule with a winning record. The loss drops SIU to 1-2.
The reality is South Dakota is coming to town Sept. 29. The Salukis have to travel to Illinois State. If the Salukis manage to go 4-1 in the next five games, they’ll be 5-3 going into the final three games which includes Western Illinois and South Dakota State at home. SIU finishes the season at North Dakota State.
No one wants to go into the final week of the season needing a win at the FargoDome to qualify for the playoffs.
And, it’s not just the loss to SEMO that hurts. It’s the way the game unfolded.
SIU took a quick 10-0 lead, despite being less than sharp offensively.
Quarterback Sam Straub threw an interception on SIU’s first possession, but the defense forced a three-and-out. The Salukis then marched the ball deep in SEMO territory, picking up a first down at the Redhawks 16, but had to settle for a field goal when Straub was sacked on third down.
However, a disturbing trend reared its head early in the game.
SEMO running back Terry Marquis, who appeared to be auditioning for the Heisman Trophy, ran through, over, around and seemingly under SIU tacklers the entire first quarter. Although just 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, Terry was, apparently, unstoppable.
He gutted the Saluki defense for 166 rushing yards in the first quarter, finishing the game with 311 yards. Despite Terry’s record-setting performance, SIU had a chance to win the game.
After a shaky first half, Straub found the range in the second half. He threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Raphael Leonard with 1:52 left, putting SIU on top 44-41. At that point, the Saluki defense had to hold SEMO at bay for 112 seconds.
For a moment, it looked as if Luke Giegling, a redshirt-freshman linebacker, had saved the day for SIU. Running in the right flat, Giegling reached to his left to grab an errant Daniel Santacaterina pass, seemingly saving the day for SIU.
It turned out to be premature jubilation. Upon further review a flag damningly sat on the turf in the SEMO backfield. A roughing the passing penalty, nullified the interception, gave the Redhawks a second chance and thoroughly complicated SIU’s playoff hopes.