CARBONDALE, Ill. – Missouri State racked up 510 yards of total offense, including a season-high 342 yards through the air, to rally from an early double-digit deficit and post a 37-27 Missouri Valley Football Conference road victory over Southern Illinois Saturday afternoon at Saluki Stadium.
Ashton Glaser completed 21-of-29 passes for a season-best 310 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to lead a Bears’ offense that registered five scoring drives of 74 yards or more. Junior receiver Julian Burton matched a career high with seven catches for 119 yards, while junior tight end Gannon Sinclair reeled in five receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns, as the Bears posted their best MVFC performance in terms of total offense since a 588-yard afternoon against Indiana State on Oct. 27, 2007.
With its offense in high gear throughout the afternoon, Missouri State (5-6, 5-2 MVFC) received a boost from its defense down the stretch as well. After seeing the Salukis pile up 160 yards of offense – including 147 passing yards — in the opening period, the Bears held SIU to just 205 yards and one touchdown the rest of the game.
Sybhrian Berry logged a team-high nine tackles (five solo) and picked off a Saluki pass in the end zone to help fuel the Bears’ comeback. Fellow senior Jeremiah Plowden also came through with a big play in the secondary to help seal the win, batting away a pass on a fake punt attempt with 3:42 to play and the Bears clinging to a four-point lead.
With their first victory in Carbondale since 2001, the Bears recorded their first four-game win streak in more than a decade and reached the five-win mark in Valley play for the first time since 1990. Additionally, MSU’s four-game conference win streak is its first since 1997.
Southern Illinois (5-5, 3-3 MVFC) raced out to an early 14-point lead for the second straight year against the Bears, as Tay Willis brought the opening kickoff back 92 yards to spark a strong first-quarter performance for the home team. After halting the Bears’ first offensive drive of the afternoon near midfield, the Salukis came up with a pair of key pass completions to march 97 yards for another touchdown and a double-digit advantage less than seven minutes into the game. Quarterback Ryan West hooked on a 59-yard pass with John Lantz, who then tossed a 23-yard scoring strike to Josh Sullivan after receiving a lateral from West.But the Bears responded in a big way, registering four different scoring drives of at least 74 yards to score 24 of the next 27 points and take a seven-point edge into the halftime lockerroom. Senior running back Mikael Cooper-Falls delivered the first blow on a 4th and 1 at the SIU 19, taking a handoff from Glaser before stopping short of the line of scrimmage and firing a 19-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Sinclair for MSU’s first points of the afternoon.
On the Salukis’ ensuing drive, the Missouri State defense came through in the red zone to put the brakes on another SIU scoring threat. On a 2nd and goal play from the MSU 6, Berry intercepted a West pass in the end zone to swing the momentum further in the Bears’ direction.
Junior quarterback Kierra Harris came off the bench to spark the offense, carrying four times for 60 yards on the Bears’ next possession, including a career-long 46-yard scoring run that evened the score at 14-all at the 10:25 mark of the second quarter.
SIU appeared to catch a break on the Bears’ next drive, as Chris Davis interception a Harris pass and returned it 22 yards to the MSU 15. But the Bears’ defense tightened up once again, limiting the Saluki offense to just one yard to force a Thomas Kinney 31-yard field goal that momentarily put SIU back on top, 17-14.
Glaser, who completed 15-of-20 passes for 214 yards in the opening half, engineered a 76-yard scoring drive to hand the Bears their first lead of the day. The senior connected with Eric Christophel on a 40-yard completion to help move the ball deep into Saluki territory, then bounced off one SIU defender and scrambled to his left to find LeMarcus Stewart for a 24-yard touchdown reception – the first of his MSU career – with 4:39 to play in the half.
The Bears’ defense stopped the Salukis again on their next possession to regain the ball at their own 20 with just over three minutes remaining on the second-period clock. Glaser went back to work, connecting with three different receivers for a total of 59 yards to set up a 23-yard Austin Witmer field goal just five seconds before the break.
Southern Illinois used an 11-play drive that used up nearly six minutes of the third quarter to cut into the Bears’ lead with another Kinney field goal that made it a 24-20 game.
MSU answered again, this time driving 75 yards in just under five minutes to stretch its lead 11 points. Glaser’s 29-yard completion to Burton on the first play of the drive set the stage, and the Bears capitalized on three critical Southern Illinois penalties to claim their largest lead of the contest. A pair of offsides infractions against the Salukis resulted in first downs, and a late hit out of bounds handed the Bears a first-and-goal at the SIU 5. Two plays later, Glaser faked a draw before hitting Sinclair over the middle for a seven-yard touchdown pass and a 31-20 cushion.
The tandem of West and Lantz kept the Salukis hopes alive, joining forces for a pair of critical third-down connections as part of a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive early in the fourth period. On 3rd and 7 from the SIU 20, West and Lantz found a seam in the Bears’ zone for a 30-yard reception to keep the drive alive. SIU’s senior receiver then hauled in a 37-yard catch on a 3rd and 8 play that set up a Malcolm Agnew 1-yard touchdown run at the 8:11 mark that drew the Salukis to within 31-27.
After forcing a Bears punt, the Salukis attempted to keep their own rally attempt alive with a fake on 4th and 4 at the SIU 26. But Plowden swatted away punter Austin Pucylowski’s pass to Tyler Williamson at the 45, effectively ending SIU’s comeback bid.
Six plays later, Glaser carried the ball over the goal line from one yard out to put the finishing touches on the win.
Lantz led the Salukis with six receptions for 139 yards to go along with 2-of-2 passing for 38 yards and a touchdown. West completed 17-of-34 attempts for 227 yards, while Agnew led all rushers with 71 yards on 13 attempts.
Up next, Missouri State wraps up the 2013 regular season with a 1:04 p.m. senior day match-up against the UNI Panthers at Plaster Field. Tickets to the game are available through MissouriStateTix.com, by calling (417) 836-7678 or stopping by the Chevy Pickup Window at JQH Arena during regular box office hours.