TERRE HAUTE —
If there’s an overriding theme in Indiana State’s last two football victories, it’s not about how the Sycamores have started, but how they’ve finished.
That plot played out again in ISU’s favor in a 31-17 Homecoming victory over Missouri State. ISU scored 17 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to pull away from the Bears.
The come-from-behind victory comes a week after ISU outscored Southern Illinois 17-0 in the fourth quarter of a 24-3 victory in Carbondale, Ill.
“These last two games show we know how to finish,” ISU running back Shakir Bell said.
“We’re going to keep fighting. This program’s been fighting for a long time and we’re going to keep fighting.”
ISU’s knack for closing the deal helped the Sycamores improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. ISU is tied for third place with Illinois State and Southern Illinois.
Bell was emblematic of how tenacious the Sycamores were in the last stages of the game. Bell finished with 113 yards and a touchdown despite leaving the game in the second quarter with concussion symptoms. The junior was cleared to play by ISU’s athletic training staff at halftime.
“It was just a little headache, that’s all it was,” Bell said. “I actually thought I was out of the game, they told me I wasn’t going to be able to come back in, but the training staff gave me a lot of tests [at halftime], I passed all of them, and everything was fine.”
Stick-to-itveness was also displayed by ISU quarterback Mike Perish. The sophomore had a subpar stat line – he completed 11 of 24 passes for 127 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions – but when Missouri State took a three-point lead in the third quarter, Perish got on point on the ensuing series.
The Western Michigan transfer completed a 31-yard pass to tight end Michael Mardis on 3rd-and-4 in ISU territory and it proved to be the play that jump-started ISU’s comeback.
ISU coach Trent Miles called the completion the biggest play of the game and it got Perish on-track after he had misfired on his previous three attempts.
“That was a big spark. It was a great catch by Mike, he ran a really good route and the line protected well. I could hold on for a good five or six seconds. Good play all-around by the offense,” Perish said.
Three plays later, ISU over-loaded the right side of the field at the 16-yard line. Mardis slipped left underneath Missouri State’s linebackers and Perish found him wide-open as the Bears collapsed to the right side. Mardis walked in for an easy touchdown to put ISU in front 21-17.
“We just put the play in this week – a little delayed drag. I had to wait for everyone to clear out and then I went. It opened up just like it did in practice,” said Mardis, who played despite a hip pointer he suffered a week prior at SIU.
Bell provided the finishing blow to the Bears. He ran for 67 yards of ISU’s 69 yards on a nine-play scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. Bell capped it off himself with a 24-yard touchdown on a draw play to make it 28-17 and put the game out of the Bears’ reach.
“When I came back in, I wanted to show my teammates that I’m going to fight for them every game. Every inch, every yard,” Bell said.
A Tanner Fritschle field goal provided the final points for ISU. Though Missouri State rolled up 341 yards of total offense, and outgained ISU by 61 yards, the Bears scored just two touchdowns.
Missouri State (0-6, 0-3) established rhythm early in the contest. On its first two drives, the Bears were 4 of 5 on third down conversions. The reward came on the second of those drives. Glaser scored a 1-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
The Bears’ lead lasted all of 11 seconds. Tanner Riley took the ensuing kickoff, found a seam up the middle, and broke free for a 93-yard kick return touchdown.
“We had great blocks and a great set-up. Taje High, our off-returner, was leading up the hole and it was off-to-the-races,” Riley said.
From there, it got sloppy. Missouri State running back Vernon Scott had broken free for what should have been a long run, but Scott dropped the ball at the ISU 43. Johnny Towalid recovered the gift fumble.
ISU made the Bears pay when Perish found Demory Lawshe for a 26-yard touchdown pass to put the Sycamores in front 14-7 late in the first quarter.
The second quarter was a sloppy stalemate for both teams. Each team intercepted the other twice – Perish was intercepted in the red zone on one failed ISU drive.
“We struggled offensively at first. Our defense put us in great position a few times in the first half, but we weren’t able to cash it in,” Miles said.
The Bears had the better of much of the third quarter. A 38-yard Austin Witmer field goal made it 14-10 and Missouri State hit paydirt on its next drive to take the lead. A 47-yard reception by Julian Burton set up a 2-yard Kierra Harris-to-Matt Thayer touchdown to give the Bears a 17-14 advantage.
ISU’s defense forced four Bears’ turnovers, including three interceptions. Aaron Archie had 15 tackles.
ISU’s next two games are on the road. A trip to No. 1 North Dakota State starts the road swing next Saturday.
The defending national champion Bison left little doubt as to their ability as they defeated No. 3 Youngstown State 48-7 at the Fargodome.