CARBONDALE, Ill. – Missouri State erupted for 28 second-half points and racked up 485 yards of total offense to take down No. 7-ranked Southern Illinois here Saturday, 38-28.
Quarterback Jason Shelley led the MSU resurgence, throwing for 248 yards and accounting for three touchdowns – one passing and two rushing. He also eclipsed 4,000 career passing yards in the comeback victory and posted a club record ninth-straight 200-yard passing effort.
The No. 17-ranked Bears (6-3, 5-2 MVFC) trailed 13-10 at the half, surviving three turnovers and seven sacks by the SIU defense in the opening 30 minutes.
“Our offensive line and coaches did a really good job at halftime fixing whatever it was,” said head coach Bobby Petrino. “Then we came out (in the second half) and ran the ball more. Whenever you can run the ball more with our offensive, it took the pressure off our offensive line and put us in a better situation. I can’t tell you how proud I am of our running backs and receivers and Shelley’s such a tough guy. It was really just a great team effort.”
Petrino’s troops shook off the halftime deficit with three unanswered touchdown drives to start the second-half scoring, building a 31-13 lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
Shelley’s second rushing touchdown of the game, a 14-yard scamper, made it a 17-13 game late in the third quarter. The Bears then pushed ahead 24-13 on the second play of the final period on a one-yard TD carry from Tobias Little to make it 24-13. Then, just under three minutes into the final period, Kevon Latulas found a seam from his own 13 yard line and turned it up field, virtually untouched, for an 87-yard touchdown run.
Latulas’ dash, the sixth-longest run from scrimmage in school history, gave the Bears a 31-13 lead with 12:03 to go.
Latulas led all players with 104 rushing yards on just seven carries, while Little finished with 78 yards on 21 touches tor the Bears who racked up a season-high 237 ground yards and four rushing touchdowns.
Southern Illinois (6-3, 4-2 MVFC) did its best to rally back from the 18-point deficit. On the Salukis’ next drive after Latulas’ big run, the home side got back within 31-20 on 19-yard touchdown pass from Nic Baker to Izaiah Hartrup with 10:26 to play.
However, the home side’s hopes were quickly dashed two Missouri State possessions later. Facing a third-and-17 from the SIU 31, Shelley hit Tyrone Scott on a bubble screen, and the league’s top yardage receiver weaved his way through traffic and took it to the house. The play came on the heels of a fourth-down stop by the MoState defense at the Salukis 35, and MSU turned it into points four plays later, making it 38-20, with just six-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Baker rallied SIU with a 76-yard touchdown drive and subsequent two-point conversion late in the contest to get the Salukis within 10 for the final margin. He finished 21-of-38 for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Landon Lenoir had 7 receptions for 100 yards to lead all players.
The Missouri State defense was on point again this week, forcing Southern Illinois into four straight punts to open the second half and give the offense an opportunity to do its magic. The Bears had three sacks in the second half and allowed just 36 rushing yards on 31 touches for the game.
Montrae Braswell and Titus Wall notched seven tackles apiece for the Bears, with Braswell breaking up four passes on the afternoon.
In the opening half, the Bears outgained the Salukis, 132-117, but trailed 13-10 at the intermission. A school-record, 55-yard field goal by Nico Gualdoni as time expired in the second quarter gave SIU a 13-10 lead at the midway point.
For the second week in a row, the Bears took the game’s opening kickoff and marched it down the field for a touchdown to take the early advantage. On the way, Missouri State converted two key third-down plays to help the visitors get closer. On a second-and-12 from the SIU 20, Shelley called his own number and weaved his way to paydirt to make it 7-0 and cap the 10-play opening drive.
The Bears held SIU to a three-and-out on the Salukis’ first possession of the game, but the ensuing punt was muffed by the Bears at their own 17. Southern Illinois jumped at the opportunity and tied the game up on the very next play with a Baker TD strike to Justin Strong.
Missouri State dodged a bullet later in the quarter when they coughed it up in their own territory again, holding SIU on a fourth-and-one play after a stellar tackle from Titus Wall. The Bears turned that momentum into three points 10 plays later. A 17-yard completion from Shelley to Jordan Murray on third-and-13 carried the ball into Saluki territory, and later, a 13-yard completion to Tyrone Scott on third down got MSU within field goal range. Jose Pizano booted through a career-long 51-yarder to give the visitors a 10-7 lead at the end of the opening period.
Gualdoni tacked on two field goals for the home side in the second quarter, the first from 50 and the go-ahead 55-yarder at the halftime buzzer, to swing the lead back to SIU at the midway point. The go-ahead drive was set up after Shelley was picked off at the SIU 42 with just 18 seconds left in the half.
Scott once again led Missouri State’s receiving corps with 5 receptions for 83 yards for the game, while Xavier Lane caught 4 passes for 110 yards.
Missouri State finished 13-for-20 on third down and had 37 minutes in possession time on the afternoon.
The Bears return to Plaster Stadium next Saturday (Nov. 13) for a 2 p.m. kickoff against Northern Iowa (5-4, 3-3 MVFC) on senior day. Prior to Saturday, Missouri State’s most-recent win over a top-10 foe on the road was 13-6 win at No. 10 UNI in March.