The Illinois State Redbirds defeated the Southern Illinois Salukis 31-28 Saturday night at Hancock Stadium on a beautiful evening for football.
ISU snapped its longest losing streak (four games) under head coach Brock Spack. The four-game losing streak was the team’s longest such streak since 2004. ISU improves its record to (3-4, 1-3 MVFC) and SIU (2-4, 0-3 MVFC) lost its third straight game.
“I’ve been pleased with our players’ attitudes. I think our leadership’s been outstanding … We’ve learned a lot the past couple weeks; unfortunately it took four losses to do it,” head coach Brock Spack said.
Spack playing the wind in the fourth quarter turned out to be an important decision in the ballgame. Sean Slattery booted in a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the difference in the game.
With yet another slow start out of the gate for ISU, the ’Birds found themselves down 10-0 before the team got a first down. ISU started with four-straight three-and-outs before James Robinson broke off a 55-yard run, which set up a 14-yard touchdown run on the next play.
“We made plays in critical situations, and we hadn’t done that,” Spack said.
It would appear the Redbirds have found their man at running back. After using a stable of ball carriers the first few weeks, true freshman James Robinson had his second-straight game with over 100 rushing yards.
A heavy dose of Robinson was used early and often throughout the evening. The Rockford native finished with a game and career-high of 122 yards on 26 carries. Robinson also had one touchdown and caught two passes for four yards.
Anthony Warrum had a big night for the Redbirds, leading all receivers with 98 yards on three catches, two of which were touchdowns.
Christian Gibbs caught five passes for 76 and one touchdown on the evening. That touchdown came with a defender draped all over him and drew a pass interference call.
“We’ve been focusing on finishing drives and finishing games … we have this thing in practice called I.C.E. or I Catch Everything. In practice I try and catch everything, and hopefully it translates to the game,” Gibbs said.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe finished 16-for-26 (62%) for 200 yards and three touchdowns, with a long of 51.
Kolbe was sacked just one time in the evening, which comes as a surprise having been sacked six times in each of the last two games.
“They [the offensive line] kept working in practice, they have a great o-line coach ... that’s just a test to their work ethic. The o-line played their butts off all night,” Kolbe said.
On defense, sophomore safety Mitchell Brees led the way for the the Redbirds with 11 tackles (eight solo) and two tackles for a loss.
“Preparation was the biggest part, and getting ready for those deep balls they were gonna throw at the end […] We made the plays when we really had to […] if we can hold teams under 30 points I think we can win a lot more games,” Brees said.
Coming into the contest, SIU led the MVFC in passing yards. Quarterback Josh Straughan had 1,608 yards through the air coming into the game, which is over 320 yards per game. ISU held the strong Saluki passing attack below that average, for 244 yards.
Dalton Keene finished with nine tackles (three solo) and 1.5 sacks on the evening. Brent Spack finished with 10 tackles (seven solo) and one tackle-for-loss.
In the secondary, La’Darius Newbold had a big interception that led to the Kolbe-to-Warrum touchdown pass.
ISU travels to South Dakota next week to take on the Coyotes. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.