The Illinois State University football team struggled against Youngstown State Nov. 23, falling 21-3. But a dominating run attack with star senior running back James Robinson helped the Redbirds take down Southeast Missouri State University 24-6 in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
“James and our offensive line had a great game. This is how you have to play in the Missouri Valley, you have to make it off a good defense and a strong running game,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said.
“We did not play well early against Youngstown. We came out today and started better. They are a tough, strong group; they came in with a chip on their shoulder and used that to their advantage.”
As the focus of the Redbirds’ offense, Robinson got plenty of touches raking up 297 yards — a career high and ISU high in a game — compared to last week’s 82-yard effort. Robinson worked much more efficiently, averaging 7.2 yards a carry compared to last week’s 3.7 yards. Despite loading up the box, SEMO was unable to find an answer to Robinson.
“We came into the game knowing we would run a lot,” Robinson said. “We knew they would stack the box like they did, our offensive line did a great job helping out. I did not think I was going to get the ball that much but it worked out.”
Spack was not shocked by Robinson’s career day.
“Watching the tape, I thought 250 was in the cards. But you never know playing someone you have never played,” Spack said.
Robinson was featured early and often. Of the 15 plays in the first quarter, Robinson was handed the ball 11 times. On the first drive of the game, Robinson found the end zone after six carries and 78 yards. He set up the score after flipping field positions with a 49-yard rush.
After his first big rush, Robinson knew they would have to keep the momentum up.
“It was more of keeping the momentum and flow going,” Robinson said. “It is all about the momentum, we kept the energy up the whole game even though some things did not go our way.”
The Redhawks responded with a 40-yard field goal to get on the board 7-3.
The Redbirds found the end zone again early in the second quarter. After featuring Robinson on seven of eight plays, ISU featured a play fake with freshman quarterback Bryce Jefferson. Faking to Robinson, Jefferson completed the quarterback draw as he ran untouched into the end zone for his first rushing touchdown.
Jefferson got in the action again in the final minutes of the first half. Faking the run to Robinson, Jefferson threw a deep bomb to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Edgar for the 33-yard touchdown.
“Coming in I knew my guys had my back and that we would do well if we executed the plan,” Jefferson said. “The nerves were not there, it is football go out there and win the game.”
That was Edgar’s first touchdown since Week 4 against Northern Arizona. Late in that game after catching a pass from Brady Davis, Edgar was tackled and on the play shattered his collarbone.
“I got hit while throwing it, I had to trust that he was going to be there,” Jefferson said.
In his first start filling in for the injured Davis, Jefferson had a solid showing, throwing 4-7 for 52 yards, one rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.
Neither team was able to get much going in the second half. The only points scored were off field goals from ISU’s Sam Fenlason and SEMO’s Kendrick Tiller.
ISU’s defense was disruptive in the second half. Forcing a fumble, three interceptions and three sacks were key for the Redbirds stopping the Redhawks in the second half. Devin Taylor was especially explosive with five solo tackles, one tackle for loss and a big interception.