WIU Loses Lead, Falters in 3OT
The Western Illinois football team returned home Saturday for the annual homecoming game as well as the opener of Missouri Valley play against rivals Missouri State. WIU got out to a 14-0 lead early and looked to have the game in hand, but wound up in a dogfight that saw the game head into overtime tied at 21. WIU and MSU traded touchdowns in the first OT, field goals in the second, while the third saw a touchdown and missed 2-point try by MSU and a four-and-out for WIU on its final possession.
This game was the first 2019 start for Richmond transfer QB Kevin Johnson, and the results were a mixed bag at best. After showing some real promise and ability in his taking over for Connor Sampson two weeks prior against Tennessee Tech, Johnson looked lost at times against MSU. Johnson completed under 50% of his throws, went for 138 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions. He was replaced by Connor Sampson late and going into overtime and Sampson looked the better of the two. The redshirt-junior QB went 9-14 in his limited action for 95 yards. He led the team down the field one time late in the fourth for a Max Norris touchdown run, showing he is still very capable of running this offense. Head Coach Jared Elliott will have a real conundrum on his hands when deciding who should get the start for WIU in this week’s game on the road against Indiana State.
Another woeful issue that appeared, at least partially, to be mended was the running attack for the Leathernecks. Though they averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, WIU was able to rack up 133 yards and 2 touchdowns in regulation, while Norris ran in the Leathernecks’ only touchdown in overtime. Norris changed his number to 9 in the game, and while that absolutely had nothing to do with the performance, he did look better running the ball. Maybe the change caused a confidence boost, who knows. All we do know is he ran the ball with more ferocity and fearlessness than he has in the past, and was part of the reason WIU was so competitive in this one.
The WIU defense looked very good in the first half, holding MSU to just 7 points and making QB Peyton Huslig look uncomfortable in the pocket. It seemed at times like he was very uncertain with his decision-making, and too often it looked like the Bears were looking for a big play when they should have been concerned with moving the ball against what has been, to this point, a leaky defense. Huslig found his confidence in the second half, as the Bears mounted a mightily impressive comeback, going from 14-0 down to 21-14 up late in the fourth quarter. On the game, Huslig finished with a 64% completion percentage while he threw for four touchdowns, one of which on the very first play of the first overtime, and more than 300 yards. The Western defense will have to improve more consistently in the future, or they will be in trouble against the likes of Illinois State, North Dakota State and others in the Missouri Valley.
Overall, despite some nice improvements, the effort still fell short for WIU and they lost after leading by two possessions. Elliott and his crew will have a lot to assess going into this week, as the Leathernecks remain without a win through 5 weeks. As stated earlier, WIU will be on the road for week 6, as they head to Terre Haute, Indiana for a matchup with the Indiana State Sycamores. Kick-off is set for 12 PM.