Despite playing through constant rain, the Illinois State University football team was able to prevail 24-7 on Homecoming over Indiana State.
Knowing that the passing game would struggle, the Redbirds leaned heavily on the running game. The ’Birds racked up 298 yards on the ground while only picking up a measly 11 through the air.
“Gutsy win by our team. It was a miserable day,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said. “Our team had a tough gritty Missouri Valley win. I was very proud of how they played in the second half and won with their physicality.”
But through the downpour, the Redbirds’ defense stepped up.
A trio of second half turnovers was huge for the Redbirds. The first, a fumble recovery by Jason Lewan, set up a 38-yard field goal for Sam Fenlason, giving the ’Birds a 10-7 lead.
The second proved to be even bigger for the ’Birds. With the Sycamores knocking at the door, sophomore John Ridgeway forced a fumble on Indiana State running back Michael Haupert, giving the Redbirds the ball on their own 15-yard line.
That play proved huge as it set up a 77-yard touchdown run that saw senior running back James Robinson break several tackles en route to the end zone.
That was Robinson’s second touchdown of the game, his first a 1-yard punch in from the 1-yard line in the second quarter.
Robinson finished his day with 20 rushes for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Despite his solid game, Robinson was not immune to the weather.
“You have to do what you have to do. I could not feel my feet while running, but we got it done and that is all that matters,” Robinson said.
“It feels like you are going to fall every step. I tried my hardest not to fall, I just had to keep pushing.”
More mistakes plagued the Sycamores, on the very next play Indiana State return man Chris Childers could not wrangle in the ball and turned it over to Illinois State’s Clayton Isbell.
Jeff Proctor got the final look for the Redbirds, taking five consecutive handoffs before finding the end zone from the 1-yard line that sealed ISU’s 24-7 win.
Scoring 17 points off of turnovers proved to be the key for the Redbirds.
The Sycamores also forced their fair share of turnovers. Twice the Sycamores recovered a fumble and twice the Redbirds forced them to punt.
Coming into the game the Redbirds were one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in third-down defense allowing teams to convert on just 33% of their third downs. The Redbirds kept that up, forcing a three and out on seven of 13 drives, including the Sycamores’ first five drives.
The passing game was practically nonexistent for the Redbirds as they had more first downs than passing yards. Junior quarterback Brady Davis was just 3-11 throwing for 11 yards. Ten of those yards were picked up on a catch from freshman receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz that precursed Robinson’s first touchdown.
After losing to the Sycamores in Terre Haute last season thanks to a 132 rushing game from Titus McCoy, the Redbirds knew what to look for.
“Last year was not a great turnout. This year we wanted to take advantage of how we knew they were going to attack us,” Senior defensive lineman Ty DeForest said.
“We figured they would go back to a lot of stuff they did last year and they did. We were able to settle down and continue to stop them.”
Indiana State’s lone touchdown came in the closing seconds of the first half. Quarterback Kurtis Wilderman connected with Dante Hendrix for a 6-yard touchdown catch.
The Redbirds move to 6-2 on the season and 3-1 in MVC play.