NORMAL, Ill. – Fueled by a last-minute goal-line stand that capped a dominant day by its defense, No. 7 Illinois State escaped Hancock Stadium with a 17-12 victory over Missouri State Saturday afternoon.
Despite forcing a season-high four turnovers and limiting ISU (8-3, 5-2 MVFC) to 238 yards of offense, the Bears (1-9, 1-6 MVFC) could not overcome a pair of early Brady Davis touchdown passes and a shutdown effort by the Redbird defense in dropping their sixth-consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference game.
The thrilling finish followed a clutch effort by MSU’s defense down the stretch, as the Bears forced turnovers on two-straight Redbird possessions late in the game. Kam Carter picked off a Jack Baltz pass to give the Bears the football at the ISU 47 with just over three minutes left in regulation, but ISU’s defense would respond, stopping the MSU offense on four-consecutive plays to regain possession of the ball.
But Angelo Garbutt, who accounted for two of the Bears four takeaways, stripped James Robinson at the ISU 45, and Tyler Lovelace scooped up the loose ball to give the Bears new life at the Redbird 32 with 2:17 left on the clock. Huslig hit Damoriea Vick for a six-yard completion, then rushed for six more yards to move the first-down marker. The Bears’ senior signal-caller then connected with Jordan Murray for a 12-yard gain that moved the ball to the ISU 8 with just over a minute to play.
Huslig scrambled for five yards to the Redbird 3 on first down, but the ISU pass defense stiffened, forcing a pair of incompletions to bring up fourth and goal. After rolling to his right, Huslig was caught from behind by Luther Kirk for a nine-yard sack at the 12, ending MSU’s last-minute threat and effectively sealing the outcome.
The hard fought victory kept alive the Redbirds’ quest for their first NCAA FCS Playoff berth in three years. Robinson, the MVFC’s leading rusher, carried the load for ISU with 155 rushing yards on 29 carries, and Davis completed 8-of-11 passes for 65 yards and two first-half touchdowns before leaving the game with an apparent injury.
ISU held the Bears to 1-of-11 conversions on third down and sacked Huslig five times, with Tuvone Clark and Zek Vandenburgh each accounting for 2.0 sacks, and Dylan Draka leading the Redbirds’ with nine tackles.
Illinois State opened the scoring with a 10-play, 51-yard drive midway through the first quarter, after the Redbird defense picked off Huslig for the second consecutive possession. ISU used its potent ground attack to move the ball into the red zone, with Davis and Robinson accounting for 46 rushing yards on eight combined carries to start the drive. Davis then found a wide-open Kacper Rutkiewicz in the end zone for a five-yard scoring pass on a first-and-goal play-action call.
Jeremiah Wilson answered with the longest scoring run by a Bear in over two years on the next play from scrimmage, breaking free for a 74-yard scoring burst. The ISU defense stood its ground on MSU’s ensuing two-point conversion try, as Huslig was tripped up short of the goal line to preserve a 7-6 lead for the home club.
Davis helped engineer another ISU scoring march late in the opening period, connecting with five different receivers to finish 5-of-5 for 58 yards through the air during the 76-yard drive. His 26-yard completion to Tanner Taula moved the Redbirds into MSU territory, before his eight-yard toss to Tristan Bailey on the first play of the second quarter capped the drive and handed ISU a 14-6 edge.
Led by a defense that held the Redbirds to 156 first-half yards, Missouri State capitalized on a Garbutt interception at the ISU 25 to cut into the home team’s lead. Parker Lacina converted a 38-yard field goal to pull the Bears within five points, as the MSU defense limited ISU to 33 second-quarter yards of total offense.
The defensive exhibition continued in the second half, as Missouri State limited the Redbirds to just 19 yards and a pair of first downs in the period. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears appeared poised to take their first lead of the day after a Redbird special teams miscue and corresponding Chandler Collins fumble recovery gave MSU the ball at its own 45 yard line. Three consecutive Huslig completions for a total of 35 yards, plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on ISU handed the Bears a first-and-goal at the Redbird 3.
But an errant snap on the next play thwarted the drive, as ISU’s Clark fell on the loose ball at the 24 to squash the threat and keep the Bears off the scoreboard.
The two clubs would trade field goals on the first possessions of the fourth quarter. ISU used a 33-yard scamper by Robinson to set up a Sam Fenlason 39-yard boot with 11:03 left on the clock, only to see Lacina answer with a 36-yard kick of his own to trim the Redbird lead to 17-12 four minutes later.
Vick led MSU’s receiving corps with five catches for 48 yards, and Wilson finished with 78 rushing yards on three carries before being forced to the sideline with an injury. Titus Wall led all MSU tacklers with eight stops, and Garbutt logged seven tackles and 2.0 tackles for losses to go along with his forced fumble and interception.
Missouri State returns to Plaster Stadium for its final game of the 2019 season Saturday (Nov. 23), when the Bears take on Indiana State in a 2 p.m. (CST) senior day contest.