TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s football team had nothing to play for aside from pride in its finale Saturday against Southern Illinois. The Sycamores also had an injury list that made it difficult to cobble together a starting unit at all.
Given the circumstances, ISU put up a very good fight against the playoff-hopeful Salukis, but the task was too much for the Sycamores as they fell 31-9 at Memorial Stadium.
“I feel like we competed. I don’t think anyone gave up. There were some positives today,” ISU coach Mike Sanford said.
ISU finished its season 1-11, its worst showing since the 2009 season, the last time ISU had a one-win season. ISU went 0-8 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference for the first time since 2008.
ISU made it interesting in the finale. As late as the 2:05 mark of the second quarter, ISU was within five of the Salukis.
It was remarkable given that ISU’s offense was barely functional. Quarterback Robert Tonyan — the only healthy signal-caller available — struggled (2 of 8 passing for 15 yards) and then suffered a concussion on a two-point conversion attempt that knocked him out of the game. ISU’s leading rusher, Buck Logan, had already been knocked out after gaining 46 yards on the ground.
ISU finished the game with wide receiver Demory Lawshe as an emergency signal-caller and with one healthy running back (Austen Wozniak) in the backfield. The Sycamores managed just 55 total yards.
But ISU’s defense played well, even inspired, at times. SIU had 389 yards of total offense, but had 82 plays to build the total as ISU’s offense couldn’t stay on the field. ISU forced two turnovers, including a 98-yard interception return by Travis Starks in the third quarter. Another interception was wiped out due to a penalty. ISU also blocked a SIU punt to set up a score.
“We started out really strong. They pounded away on us in the end, but we played hard,” ISU defensive tackle Russell Jones said.
ISU kept the Salukis off the board on their first two drives. On the last of the drives, Mark Sewall emphatically blocked a punt by SIU’s Austin Pucylowski and the Sycamores took over the SIU 21. Eric Heidorn’s 39-yard field goal with 6:08 left in the first quarter put ISU up 3-0 — its first lead since Oct. 12 when it led at South Dakota.
The Salukis scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Ryan West to tight end Adam Fuehne on the last play of the first quarter, but ISU’s defense ensured that SIU’s lead would remain 7-3 at halftime. If ISU hadn’t had an illegal block on an interception return by Tsali Lough that took a touchdown off the board, the Sycamores would’ve led at halftime.
“It was frustrating that we were getting turnovers, but we were getting penalties on turnovers. Those plays would’ve made a big difference,” Sanford said.
SIU took a 14-3 lead on a 4-yard Ken Malcome run at the 11:25 mark of the third quarter, but Starks’ pick-six with 6:11 left gave the Sycamores hope, but the game turned on the two-point conversion attempt.
ISU intended to have Tonyan scramble right and look for an open receiver, but no one was open and Tonyan scrambled for the two. He elected to slide feet-first for the goal line and was hit high by a SIU defender mid-slide. The ball was an inch shy of the plane of the goal, and worse for ISU, Tonyan suffered a concussion.
An incensed Sanford — who saw all three of his quarterbacks suffer concussions this season — complained bitterly to the officials and was called for a personal foul.
“That was tough and frustrating,” Sanford said. “I apologize for getting as upset as I did. I had told the officials before the game we had one healthy quarterback and would appreciate if they protect him. I felt like he should have been protected because he slid.”
ISU was left with no quarterback, and by now, the defense was tired. It ultimately spent 41 minutes, 48 seconds on the field. The result was predictable: SIU scored three touchdowns in the final quarter-and-a-half to turn a close game into a 22-point SIU victory.
Lawshe — who took some reps as the emergency quarterback last week — made the best out of a bad situation. Lawshe, who said the experience was “fun”, ran the option and gained a first down on his second play from scrimmage.
The game — which was tense throughout — ended with several players from both teams having to be separated.
“I’m disappointed with that and I told the players that. I take responsibility for my penalty. My heart was in the right place, but my actions were unacceptable. I think, somewhat, that led to what happened after that. I told my players it’s inexcusable,” Sanford said.
ISU said goodbye to 14 seniors on Saturday. Most of them lived through in an era in which the program achieved its highest level of success in two decades. Given that, the 1-11 finish was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It’s tough. No one planned for it, but the big thing is I’m going to miss the guys,” ISU senior center FN Lutz said. “Once we got the offense and defense down, the injuries hit us hard. There’s no doubt in my mind it’ll go back up.”
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 31, INDIANA STATE 9
S. Illinois 7 0 14 10 — 31
Indiana St. 3 0 6 0 — 9
InSt—FG Heidorn 39, 6:08 1Q
SIll—Fuehne 9 pass from West (Kinney kick), :00 1Q
SIll—Malcome 4 run (Kinney kick), 11:25 3Q
InSt—Starks 98 interception return (run failed), 6:11 3Q
SIll—M.Agnew 13 run (Kinney kick), 2:05 3Q
SIll—FG Kinney 25, 7:28 4Q
SIll—M.Agnew 4 run (Kinney kick), :21 4Q
First downs 24 6
Rushes-yards 55-218 32-40
Passing 171 15
Comp-Att-Int 15-27-2 2-9-1
Return Yards 17 177
Punts-Avg. 4-24.3 5-30.4
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 2-15 4-55
Time of possession 41:48 18:12
RUSHING—S. Illinois, M.Agnew 25-97, T.Willis 7-37, Faulkner 6-36, Malcome 10-23, McKinney 6-16, Newquist 1-9. Indiana St., Logan 19-46, Lawshe 6-14, Wozniak 3-3, Tonyan 4-(minus 23).
PASSING—S. Illinois, Faulkner 11-17-0-131, West 3-8-1-19, Lantz 1-2-1-21. Indiana St., Tonyan 2-8-0-15, Lawshe 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING—S. Illinois, Lantz 8-99, McKinney 3-18, Skadeland 1-21, Sullivan 1-20, Fuehne 1-9, T.Willis 1-4. Indiana St., Levingston 1-13, Riley 1-2.