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Annexstad and Redbirds Unable to Complete Comeback in Conference Home Opener, Salukis Prevail

Written by on October 2, 2022

Image courtesy of Redbird Athletics

NORMAL, Ill. – The Illinois State Redbirds took on the Southern Illinois Salukis to kick off October, the Redbirds sporting a 2-1 record coming into the contest and the Salukis coming in with an even 2-2 record after starting their season off 0-2. It was the Salukis in the end who took home the 19-14 win despite a valiant effort by the Redbirds in the second half. 

The story of success for the Redbirds coming into the game had been their young receiving core with J’Kalon Carter, Daniel Sobkowicz, and running back Wenkers Wright. ISU had to make do without Wright for the most part, as he only had a limited role in the game due to injury. The Salukis’ recent success had been with their quarterback Nic Baker, who came into the contest coming off an incredible four touchdown game last week against North Dakota. 

From the start of the game the tone was set; old school football. From the opening kickoff, there were battles in the trenches, hard hits, blocks, and runs. Both offenses, however, weren’t afraid to take the big shot downfield. The Salukis found comfort in the screen pass, which is how they got almost all of their yardage throughout the entire game. 

Baker and the Salukis were able to open the scoring with a one-yard keeper for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Looking to respond immediately, the Redbirds appeared to go three and out until a roughing the punter call gave them a second chance to attempt to get some points back. The Redbirds could not capitalize with their second chance, however, and elected to punt on a fourth and one at midfield.  

Baker and the Saluki offense didn’t let the Redbirds breathe, with a big 67-yard pass to D’ante Cox allowing the Salukis to get back within the Redbird goal line. Southern Illinois’ Javon Williams Jr. punched the ball into the endzone and made it a 13-0 game after a missed PAT. The Redbirds had multiple opportunities to capitalize in the first half, but it was the simple mistakes like dropped passes, muffed punts, and failed scrambles that caused them to have problems. Just before the first half ended, Ro Elliot punched a two-yard run in for a touchdown for the Salukis, but a blocked PAT kept the game at 19-0 going into the second half. 

Coming out of halftime, the Salukis decided to not fix what wasn’t broken. They immediately went back to their screen passes and ran right up the middle. Southern Illinois’ ability to switch between the screen pass and the run is what enabled them to gain their yardage and subsequently, the win. 

The Redbirds offense started to show life in the third quarter. Annexstead was able to complete passes to his playmakers in space and scramble to create the first redzone opportunity for the Redbirds with under two minutes in the third quarter. It was a completion to Rashad Lampkin for six yards that got the Redbirds onto the board. Barring the first couple plays of the third quarter, ISU got a handle on the Southern Illinois offense, and would not allow them to score again. 

After getting the Salukis to punt within the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, the ‘Birds pushed the tempo, running their hurry up offense which completely shifted the momentum. The Annexstead brothers connected for big yardage, along with Sobkowicz. A roughing the passer call breathed even more life into the ISU offense which pushed them into the redzone. Another penalty, this time illegal substitution, extended the Redbirds’ life even further. It was Sobkowicz receiving a two-yard pass from Annexstead that put the Redbirds back within striking distance of the Salukis. The Birds decided to play aggressively, blitzing quarterback Nic Baker at any opportunity they had. Once again, penalties struck down the Saluki’s hopes after a holding call pushed them back and forced them to punt. 

 The Redbirds made massive gains into the Saluki zone with momentum completely on ISU’s side. It was Annexstead, using his legs, that made the final drive possible. With time running out, Annexstead did not have the time on fourth down in the pocket to make a play and he was sacked hard. Combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct against ISU coach Brock Spack, the Salukis got good field position and just needed to run the clock out. After a shovel pass leading to a first down, the Salukis kneeled it out to finish the game 19-14. 

ISU showed great promise in the second half, they were able to move the ball down the field with ease while pushing the tempo. The crux of the issue was the 2nd quarter, where the Salukis scored all of their points and were seemingly unstoppable with their grinding offense.  

It was a tale of two halves, Saluki dominated first, and Redbird dominated second. However, in the end, there just wasn’t enough time in the twilight of the game to allow ISU to complete their comeback. ISU drops to 2-2, while the Salukis improve to 3-2 and continue their win streak.  

The Redbirds will take on the Northern Iowa Panthers next Saturday, October 8th on the road.