SPRINGFIELD, MO. —
Pick six reasons why Indiana State’s football team lost 49-7 Saturday at Missouri State?
It’s a trick question. You don’t need six reasons to ascertain the Sycamores’ fall … just three answers will suffice.
It would account for the trio of interception returns for touchdowns Missouri State had in the third quarter. The turnovers transformed what had been a competititve game into a blowout that ultimately turned into ISU’s third loss by 40 points or more in as many games.
“We were competing and we were in the game. We made some ridiculous mistakes and gave them some huge plays,” ISU coach Mike Sanford said.
All three of the interceptions were thrown by ISU quarterback Mike Perish. He returned from a sprained knee suffered at South Dakota on Oct. 12, but Saturday’s performance was not one for the time capsule. Perish completed 14 of 34 passes for 95 yards and four interceptions. ISU’s receivers didn’t help the cause with several drops.
Perish declined to talk to the media about his performance, but the turnovers were clearly frustrating to all on the Sycamore sideline.
“Going into halftime, it’s a close game. We’re fighting hard staying in there, but it was a whole different story in the second half. They scored on us and then the offense threw three pick-sixes in a row. You just can’t do that,” ISU safety Donovan Layne said. “The defense fought hard, but the tables were turned so much we couldn’t get back into the game.”
Sanford called the pick-sixes “unbelievable,” but also noted that Perish is playing hurt.
“I love Mike to death and Mike’s a good player, but he’s playing with a bad knee. I think it affected his accuracy. He’s playing injured and he’s adapting to playing injured. That affects your throwing motion and ability to push off your back leg,” Sanford said.
Sanford was asked if Perish was trying too hard to make something happen.
“He’s smart enough, he can’t force the ball in those situations. On one [interception], they were overloaded on that side and he’s got to come back to the other side. He forced the ball into coverage,” Sanford said.
ISU’s defense held the fort at times, but was vulnerable against the Bears’ running game. Missouri State rushed for 210 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
“Our defense was very competitive in the first half, but the thing we had to do was stop the run and I don’t think we did that well enough,” Sanford said. “We have to get more people around the football.”
ISU (1-8, 0-5) trailed by just a touchdown at halftime, but the game quickly got away from the Sycamores. Missouri State scored on the opening series of the half. A 46-yard run on a delayed handoff to Ryan Heaston set up a 3-yard keeper by Missouri State quarterback Kierra Harris to make it 21-7.
The pick-sixes began falling like rain later in the quarter. Two came at midfield. Rique Bentley jumped a Perish pass near the hashmark and raced 53 yards for a touchdown. Three plays after the kickoff, it was Jeremy Springer’s turn from nearly the same spot as he went 51 yards to make it 35-7.
ISU was in Missouri State territory late in the period when lightning struck thrice. Sybhrian Berry swooped in on the right side and went 73 yards for another interception return for a TD.
By the time the pick-six dust settled, Missouri State had a 42-7 advantage and scored 21 of its 28 third-quarter points via interception returns.
Missouri State almost had a fourth interception return in the fourth quarter, but Springer stepped out at the ISU 12. It led to an 8-yard Cedric Miller touchdown run.
The first half — played in lightning-quick fashion at a little more than an hour — was kinder to the Sycamores even if the Bears were more productive.
Mikael Cooper-Falls scored a 3-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter to put the Bears up 7-0. On the scoring drive, the Bears gained 55 of 61 yards on the ground.
While the Bears moved the chains more often than ISU did in the first 30 minutes, they also were more careless. Missouri State starting quarterback Ashton Glaser was intercepted by ISU safety Mark Sewall on the Bears’ first series and then Glaser found more danger.
On a sideline pass by Glaser at the Missouri State 20-yard line, Layne read the route and intercepted Glaser’s inaccurate floater. Layne had an easy path to the end zone and tied the game with 11:14 left in the second quarter.
“That was a play we ran all week. I knew that ball was coming and I made the play. That was all preparation,” Layne said.
ISU had momentum for a time, but couldn’t keep it as Missouri State’s defense held ISU to just 99 total yards in the opening half.
The Bears (4-6, 4-2) eventually found some stability with Harris at quarterback. With 2:02 left in the half, he stayed in the pocket in the face of an ISU blitz and found Eric Christophel for a 28-yard touchdown pass. It staked the Bears to a 14-7 halftime advantage.
“I felt coming out of halftime, we’d stop them, get the ball back and score,” Sanford said.
ISU plays its final road game of the season next week at South Dakota State.