MACOMB, Ill. – Seniors Jaelon Acklin and Brett Taylor re-wrote the Western Illinois record book on Saturday (Sept. 30), but the Leathernecks came up just short in what would have been the biggest comeback in program history, falling 38-33 to South Dakota. It was the home opener and Homecoming for the 13th-ranked Leathernecks (3-1 overall), as both teams opened Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
Down 38-6 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter, Acklin teamed with Sean McGuire to spur the comeback. Acklin set program records making 19 catches for 343 yards and caught three touchdowns during that span. The yardage not only set a MVFC record but finished as the fourth-highest single-game total by an NCAA FCS player.
While the offense kept rolling over the final 20 minutes, the defense blanked USD in that time, led by Taylor’s career-high 28 tackles. He tied with NFL great Rodney Harrison (at Western Kentucky, 1993) for the WIU single-game record, and recorded the fifth-most in MVFC history.
“I think more than anything we started to play like we can play. We got some energy going, we started making plays and gained some confidence,” said coach Charlie Fisher. “I challenged our guys at halftime, I said ‘This isn’t us’. We need to answer the bell and represent this football organization the way we can play and we did that. We gave ourselves a chance at the end, as a head coach that’s all you can ask.
“He’s certainly capable of it by the way he’s performed since January. I’ve done this a long time, 37 years, and I’ve got a lot of games, and a lot of really good quarterbacks and receivers. The performance that Acklin had today was short of nothing just unbelievable. His effort and determination, I tip my hat and I told him that in the locker room,” said Fisher. “I haven’t seen a performance like that since going back to what (former North Carolina State and NFL standout) Torry Holt did a number of times.”
USD (4-0), ranked 10th nationally, recovered a fumble in the endzone to go ahead 38-6 with 5:44 left in the third. On the second play of the next Western drive, McGuire connected with Acklin on a 62-yard touchdown, needing just 35 seconds for the tally. Less than five minutes later, Steve McShane took over. The junior running back started with a 77-yard punt return. A penalty moved the ball back 15 yards, but McShane caught a 22-yard pass and he punched it in from one yard out to make it 38-20.
The fourth quarter saw Western force a USD punt. The offense staged a 19-play drive, taking up 6:32 on the clock. McGuire found Acklin on an 11-yard TD pass to make it an 11-point game.
Western forced another punt, and once again it was Acklin who delivered. The senior wide receiver broke three tackles en route to a 41-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The two-point conversion went incomplete.
USD took over with 2:10 left when the Coyotes recovered the onside kick. The defense held on 3rd-and-1 when Taylor and Riggs Baxter recorded a stop. On 4th-and-2, Chris Streveler tried another quarterback sneak, but Taylor and Shabar Wilson made the stop to turn the ball over on downs with 30 seconds left.
Taking over on its own 34, McGuire tried another shot down the left sidelines, but Danny Rambo intercepted the pass and ended Western’s comeback hopes.
McGuire’s career-high 441 passing yards were the third-most in program history.
The Coyotes ended a five-game losing streak to Western. Streveler threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 89 yards and a score.
Western returns to the road, traveling to UNI next Saturday (Oct. 7). Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Acklin shattered Frisman Jackson’s previous receiving records of 14 catches for 286 yards against Indiana State in 2001… His 343 all-purpose yards were the fourth-most in WIU history… McShane’s punt return tied for the seventh-longest in program history… Western was out-gained 517-474 yards… Both teams recorded two sacks… Tony Harper caught a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, his first this year… Western recorded 13 tackles for a loss compared to USD’s 5.0… Justin Fitzpatrick recorded six solo tackles… Taylor’s 18 assisted tackles were the second-most in program history… The Leathernecks’ nearly rallied from a 32-point deficit. The largest come-from-behind win in program history is 23 points.