Bears roll to first win, 37-10 over Illinois State
Eric Doennig Reporting
Springfield, MO (Missouri State Athletics) -- Missouri State forced five second-half turnovers and limited No. 24 Illinois State to 214 yards of total offense to post a 37-10 victory in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both squads in a steady rainfall Saturday afternoon at Plaster Field. The Bears (1-4, 1-0 MVFC) rolled up 272 rushing yards and outscored the Redbirds 23-0 in the second half to notch their first win of the season.
The Bears reeled off 30 unanswered points, capitalizing on three fumbles and a pair of interceptions by the Redbirds (1-3, 0-1 MVFC) after the break to seize control of the contest. ISU mustered just 18 rushing yards and four first downs in the second half, while five different Bears found the end zone in MSU's second win in as many years against a ranked Redbird squad.
Trailing 10-7 late in the second quarter, junior quarterback Kierra Harris found Dorian Buford open over the middle, and the senior receiver made an acrobatic grab before racing the final 46 yards untouched into the end zone for a career-long 73-yard touchdown that put MSU on top for good.
ISU struggled to hang on to the football in the third quarter, as a dropped punt and a pair of fumbles set up MSU for two more scoring chances. The Bears got a three-yard run by Harris and a 23-yard field goal by Marcelo Bonani to up the advantage to 24-10.
Phoenix Johnson and Cedric Miller cashed in with the first touchdowns of their respective MSU careers in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
Caleb Schaffitzel led Missouri State's defensive effort with a game-high 11 tackles to go along with his first interception of the season and the sixth of his MSU career. Junior linebacker Andrew Beisel added eight stops, and senior defensive end Anthony Grady posted a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick for the Bears.
Mikael Cooper-Falls posted his best rushing effort in nearly four years with a game-high 95 yards on 16 carries to pace the MSU ground attack. Johnson added a career-best 54 yards, while Harris and Miller chipped in with 51 and 37 yards, respectively.
The comfortable win for MSU snapped a string of eight-straight losses in MVFC openers for the Bears, as well as a 14-game September losing streak dating back to the 2010 season.
The Bears registered the only points in the opening period with a Harris to Matt Swan three-yard touchdown pass that finished off a 12-play, 80-yard drive. MSU held the early 7-0 lead despite a Harris interception deep in Bears' territory and an Illinois State offense that maintained possession of the football for over nine minutes in the first quarter.
After Tevin Allen picked off Harris's first pass attempt of the day on the Bears' opening possession of the afternoon, the MSU defense kept the nation's top red zone scoring unit off the scoreboard by coming up with a stop on 3rd and goal from the MSU 6. Grady then blocked Nick Aussieker's 22-yard field goal attempt to keep the game scoreless.
Cooper-Falls performed the heavy lifting on the Bears' first scoring drive, busting out with a 33-yard run - MSU's longest rush of the season - and carrying for 46 yards on six carries overall. But it would be Harris's toss to a wide-open Swan on a 3rd-and-goal play-action call from the three that put the Bears on the board with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
But ISU went to work on the first play of the second period, as quarterback Blake Winkler hooked up with Milton Colbert for a 36-yard completion to the MSU 7 to set up the Redbirds' first score of the afternoon. The Bears' defense held strong again, however, limiting ISU to an Aussieker 22-yard field goal that made it a 7-3 game with 13:03 to play in the half.
The Redbirds would strike again just over a minute later after Allen came up with his second takeaway of the game, returning a Vernon Scott fumble 22 yards to the MSU 4 yard line. Two plays later, Collin Keoshian took it in from four yards out to put ISU on top, 10-7.
MSU would answer with a season-long 97-yard scoring drive to reclaim the upper hand with 2:23 to play in the half when Harris found Buford open over the middle for the momentum-swinging touchdown.
Missouri State begins a two-game road swing next Saturday (Oct. 5) with a 2 p.m. MVFC contest against South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.
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