Adversity has been no stranger to the Illinois State University football team this season.
Earlier in the season, the Redbirds lost their top two receivers in sophomores Andrew Edgar and Taylor Grimes to injury. Senior offensive lineman Gabe Megginson was also lost for the season after a back injury suffered in Week 2.
This adversity struck ISU (8-3, 5-2) once again Saturday, as redshirt junior quarterback Brady Davis went down with a knee injury early in the second quarter of the Redbirds’ 17-12 victory over Missouri State (1-9, 1-6) on Senior Day at Hancock Stadium.
“Real gritty win,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said. “Our players and our whole team played with a lot of grit today. There was a lot of adversity. Our hats off to Missouri State, I thought they played really well. It just goes to show how good the Missouri Valley is. I thought our players played well.”
The injury appeared to come after Davis jumped up for a snap over his head and landed awkwardly. Clear frustration was seen from Davis, who missed an entire season early in his career after tearing his ACL while at Memphis.
“It’s on his (Davis’) ACL knee, the one he hurt at Memphis,” Spack said. “It was giving out on him. He has no pain, we will do an MRI on Monday. He thinks he’s fine, it was just giving out on him.”
Replacing Davis was redshirt freshman Bryce Jefferson, who on his first play from scrimmage tossed an interception deep inside his own territory to give the Bears great field position at the ISU 25-yard line. Four plays later, Parker Lacina booted a field goal from 38 yards out to trim the ISU lead to 14-9 with 7:57 remaining in the second quarter.
From there, it was freshman Jack Baltz who took over under center for the injured Davis. Baltz threw just two passes in the game, going 0 for 2 with an interception late in the fourth quarter. ISU managed just 238 total yards of offense, 173 of which came on the ground.
“Jack can throw the ball well,” Spack said. “We didn’t want to throw him into adverse situations where he has to drop back and throw. We had the lead, so we wanted to be a little more conservative.”
Before leaving with the injury, Davis was an efficient 8 for 11 for 65 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz was on the receiving end of Davis’ first scoring toss from five yards out for his first career touchdown with 3:58 left in the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman tight end Tristan Bailey added his second touchdown in as many weeks to make it a 14-6 Redbird lead with 14:56 left in the half. The reception came after MSU running back Jeremiah Wilson scampered up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown. The Bears elected to go for two, but the ’Birds were all over it as quarterback Peyton Huslig was sacked for a loss.
A positive for the Redbirds was the performance of senior running back James Robinson, who moved to second all-time in ISU history after compiling 155 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
The Bears were forced to deal with some adversity of their own in the second period, as Wilson, who was playing in just his second game of the season, was forced to leave the game after taking a hard hit. Wilson finished with 78 rushing yards on three carries.
Just three offensive plays into the second half following a nice kickoff return by ISU’s Christian Uphoff, backup running back Jeff Proctor was buried in the backfield and was forced to leave the contest with a left leg injury of his own.
The struggles would only continue from there. After ISU forced a punt from the Bears, Charles Woods muffed the boot and it was quickly recovered by MSU.
Huslig led a Bears offense that compiled 287 total yards with 185 passing yards, going 19 of 35. He did throw two interceptions in the first half. Junior cornerback Devin Taylor snagged the first pick, with Woods securing the second.
A huge turning point in the contest came on the ensuing play, as a botched snap by Huslig led to a fumble recovery by senior Tuvone Clark to end the threat.
"We made some mistakes, and we overcame it," Spack said. "Our defense did a great job of responding."
Despite being unable to capitalize on the turnover, a 39-yard field goal by senior Sam Fenlason gave ISU some breathing room with 11:03 left and a 17-9 lead.
Lacina added his second field goal with 7:05 left from 36-yards out to make it 17-12, but that was all the Bears could muster.
After ISU retained possession late in the fourth period, the Bears stripped Robinson to give themselves another chance with great field position at the 32-yard line. On fourth and goal at the ISU three, senior safety Luther Kirk dragged Huslig down in the backfield to seal the deal for the 'Birds.
"We got a blitz called up for me to get there, get home," Kirk said of his game-sealing sack. "I saw the gap that I needed to hit; hit it and just let my abilities take over from there."