For 30 minutes on Saturday, it looked like it would be “Upset City” in Carbondale. But that’s why they play two halves.

The No. 6-ranked Illinois State football team took home a 42-21 win over Southern Illinois, avoiding what would have been a shocking upset with 28 unanswered points in the second half. The ISU offense was led by the two-headed rushing attack of Marshaun Coprich and Tre Roberson. Coprich finished with 254 yards rushing, four yards short of his career high, on 29 carries for three scores while Roberson added 89 yards on the ground and two scores.

Down 21-14 at halftime, the Redbirds (8-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) seemed to be going nowhere as the Salukis (3-7, 2-5) were shredding up the Illinois State secondary with their elite passing attack.

SIU quarterback Mark Iannotti, who leads the Valley in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, tossed three touchdowns in the first half en route to a seven-point lead going into the break. Iannotti going up against the struggling ISU secondary was the biggest storyline coming into the matchup, and the battle was certainly won by the quarterback, but in the second half the Redbirds’ defense shut down the Salukis to remain in a tie atop the Valley standings with North Dakota State.

Iannotti, the do-it-all signal caller for the Salukis, finished 42-for-63 for 329 yards and three scores with one interception and 94 yards on the ground on 24 carries.

The offensive game plans could not have been more different heading into the matchup. While the Salukis used their Valley-leading passing game to burn up the turf, the Redbirds stuck to their program’s identity with a grind-it-out rushing attack with a double dose of Coprich and Roberson.

The game was scoreless until Iannotti hooked up with Adam Fuehne from seven yards out for a 7-0 lead, but the ‘Birds struck right back with an eight-play, 57-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard run for Coprich’s first score of the day.

The teams traded scores once again as Iannotti found Kyle Newquist for a 14-yard score before ISU backup running back Jamal Towns took a handoff up the middle and outran several defenders for a 40-yard touchdown to knot the score at 14-14.

In the waning seconds of the first half, Iannotti connected with Billy Reed in the back of the end zone to take a 21-14 advantage into the locker room at halftime. Reed, SIU’s leading receiver, finished with 14 catches for 138 yards and the one score.

But the ‘Birds came out fired up in the second half, shutting down the Salukis on the opening drive to set the tone for the final 30 minutes.

Roberson, who struggled mightily through the air with a 4-for-13, 88-yard day, hit receiver Christian Gibbs for an explosive 41-yard pass to set up a 23-yard rushing touchdown off right tackle for a score. Following a fumble recovery by Jalen Battle on the ensuing kickoff, the ‘Birds once again pounded it on the ground with Roberson’s second score of the game, this time off left tackle from 13 yards, to take a 28-21 lead which they would never relinquish.

Coprich added a 22-yard rushing touchdown midway through the third quarter to take a commanding two-touchdown lead and his 75-yard sprint up the right sideline toward the end of the fourth quarter capped off his hat trick, sending the ‘Birds home with the decisive victory.

Illinois State will now return to Normal for a date with South Dakota (5-5, 3-4) for a chance to claim its second straight share of the Missouri Valley crown. The Redbirds are in a tie with North Dakota State (8-2, 6-1) for first place in the conference and would need a win plus a loss by the Bison next weekend to capture an outright conference title.

Kickoff for the Redbirds’ Senior Day tilt against the Coyotes is set for noon at Hancock Stadium.

Zack Carpenter is a senior journalism major and sports editor at The Vidette. He can be reached by email at vidette_zecarpe@ilstu.edu and found on Twitter @ZCarp11.

Zack Carpenter is a senior journalism major and sports editor at The Vidette. He can be reached by email at vidette_zecarpe@ilstu.edu and found on Twitter @ZCarp11.​

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