NORMAL -- It took a while but Illinois State (1-0) finally found some rhythm and rolled to a 50-13 victory over Valparaiso (0-1) in its home opener on a beautiful 77-degree Saturday evening at Hancock Stadium.
Senior linebacker Alejandro Rivera scored ISU’s only first-quarter touchdown when he picked off Ryan Clarke at the 14:11 mark. The Redbirds went on to struggle the rest of the first quarter, managing only 15 yards on offense.
“We just had that first game sloppiness,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said. “Not burning our eyes on keys on defense, missing a blitz here and there on offense. But all in all not too bad.”
Valpo kicker Jake Simpson knocked in a 45-yard field goal with 2:09 left in the first quarter. But after the break, it was all Redbirds.
Just a few minutes into the second quarter, redshirt freshman running back DeMarco Corbin scored ISU’s first offensive touchdown off a 3-yard rush.
ISU placekicker Sean Slattery added a 25-yard field goal with 7:00 remaining in the second quarter.
New starting redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe also looked the part, but it didn’t come without an occasional hiccup from the Naperville Central grad.
On the following possession, Kolbe found the end-zone off a 6-yard quarterback sneak.
“We definitely need to work on coming out faster and hitting on all cylinders right away,” Kolbe said. “We played hard but we’ve got to improve on some little things.”
Kolbe completed 11-of-19 passes for 166 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times.
“Jake’s going to get better each week,” Spack said. “He’s going to keep improving. He’s a hard worker.”
Following the loss of two-time MVFC Offensive Player of the Year Marshaun Coprich, the Redbirds showed off a new backfield, playing musical chairs at tailback.
Senior Jamal Towns, sophomore George Moreira, Corbin and true freshman James Robinson all split time rushing the ball.
“We have a very versatile backfield,” Moreira, who led all rushers with seven carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, said. “All four of the running backs who played tonight can score and run very well. Whenever we touch the ball, we just have to make something happen.”
Corbin added 32 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries while Robinson also ran seven times for 55 yards. Robinson also had a 33-yard touchdown catch. Towns finished with eight carries for 55 yards.
ISU dominated with 446 total offensive yards compared to Valpo’s 130.
Illini graduate transfer B.J. Bello led the Redbirds on defense with five solo tackles and two sacks. Defensive lineman Dalton Keane finished with seven tackles (three solo, four assisted) and one tackle for loss while safety Drashane
Glass added two tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception
Saturday’s victory was ISU’s 18th consecutive regular season win at Hancock Stadium. The Redbirds are 8-0 in their last eight home openers.
ISU faces Big Ten opponent Northwestern (0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston. The Wildcats are coming off a 22-21 loss to Western Michigan.