MACOMB, Ill. – Leading by a score, and returning from a 99-minute weather delay, Western Illinois’ defense came up with a big stop in Missouri State territory before the Leathernecks’ offense then scored two touchdowns over the final four minutes to pull away with a 49-30 victory. Saturday night’s (Oct. 14) Missouri Valley Football Conference win ended Western’s three-game home losing streak dating back to last year.
The 14th-ranked Leathernecks improved to 5-1 overall for the second straight year (2-1 MVFC) while Missouri State fell to 1-5, 0-3.
Leading 35-30 after the delay and with MSU with great field position having taken possession after a punt at its own 45, Colin Olson got the Leatherneck defense started when he recorded a four-yard tackle for loss. Two passes by Peyton Huslig went incomplete, one broken up by Tyrin Holloway, and on 4th-and-14, Nick Masoner took the snap on a fake punt but was stopped for no gain by Brett Taylor and Khalen Saunders.
Steve McShane rushed for two yards on the first carry, then broke through the middle of the line on a 39-yard touchdown run. On the Bears’ next possession, Huslik rushed for seven yards but then Taylor recorded a two-yard sack. Eric Carrera stopped Erik Furmanek for a three-yard pass, and then he broke up a pass by Huslig to give Western the ball on downs.
McShane rushed twice for nine yards, and then Max Norris broke through on the right side for a 29-yard touchdown. Sam Crosa‘s extra point made for the final margin. MSU drove into WIU territory but on 3rd-and-goal from the six, Huslig was sacked by Carrera to end the game.
“It was a great finish to the fight by our team. Certainly want to give a lot of credit to Missouri State and Coach Steckel, who is a close friend of mine. They came and they were well-prepared. They played hard and did a really good job on both sides of the ball. It certainly was a fight to the end and I want to credit our team for that finish,” said head coach Charlie Fisher. “It felt like an overtime game in many ways. Credit our staff and the way we responded to the adversity, one of our keys to victory was how we were going to adapt and respond with the weather. We did a great job in those 90 minutes or so, or however long the break was.”
Missouri State took the opening kickoff and marched 93 yards in seven plays, capped by a Calan Crowder 38-yard touchdown run. The Leathernecks responded with a 10-play drive of their own, culminating with Sean McGuire hitting Adam Conrady for a 21-yard touchdown.
The Bears scored two quick touchdowns, the first when Rickey Nichols blocked a punt and scooped and scored from eight yards out. Malik Earl then scored on a 30-yard run to go ahead 21-7.
Western responded with a 29-yard scoring run from Norris but the extra point failed, making it 21-13. Taking the opening kickoff to start the second half, Western quickly went 75 yards in just three plays. McGuire hit a streaking Isaiah LeSure down the middle on a 43-yard scoring strike. The junior duo connected again on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21-all barely one minute into the half.
Zach Drake, who missed a 42-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half, connected from 44 yards to give the Bears a 24-21 lead. Then Jaelon Acklin took over.
The senior wide receiver took a handoff and raced 61 yards down the right sidelines for his third rushing TD of the season. On Western’s next drive, facing 3rd-and-long, he made a highlight-reel 26-yard sliding catch in the back of the endzone to put Western had 35-24 early in the fourth.
Masoner scored from nine yards out midway through the fourth quarter but the Leathernecks stopped the two-point conversion, making it 35-30.
A mistake on the kickoff return pinned Western deep in its own territory at the four instead of letting the ball go out-of-bounds. After the Adam Fellner punt, MSU was going to take over on its own 45 with 5:53 remaining when the game was suspended due to severe weather.
“There is no question Missouri State had the momentum when the break hit, and I think what we did a great job of as a staff and as a team was regroup and just get our legs back up under us, figuring out what we need to do. We had a walkthrough in the weight room, we had a walkthrough in the locker room, we went out we ran our plays, and we ran their plays,” said Fisher. “We ran them all week so we just ran it like a practice and I wanted to make sure that we were ready to play when the bell rang. That was about as good of 5:53 as you could get.”
McShane recorded his fourth career 100-yard rushing game, tallying a season-high 143 yards on 23 attempts. Norris, who entered the game with two rushing TDs this year, matched his season total on 75 yards.
Acklin rushed for 62 yards and a score and also caught a team-leading six passes for 86 yards and another TD. It was the fifth multi-touchdown game for Acklin this year.
McGuire completed 18-of-25 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
Taylor recorded a game-high 16 tackles, including 2.0 for a loss, and broke up two passes. Saunders added eight tackles while Justin Fitzpatrick and Riggs Baxter added seven tackles each.
Huslig threw for 194 yards and ran for 51. Earl set a MSU single-game record with 14 receptions totaling 145 yards.
The Leathernecks return to the road next Saturday (Oct. 21) to face North Dakota State. Kickoff in Fargo is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
• Conrady’s touchdown catch was the second of his career – both grabs have come this year.
• Western’s two-point conversion was the program’s first since Kevin Kintzel did so on the opening touchdown of the 2013 season (vs. Hampton).
• Acklin moved into a tie for seventh place on the season ‘Top 10’ list for touchdown catches (8).
• Taylor moved into fourth place all-time in total tackles with 394.
• Western’s scoring outburst was the third time this year scoring 40 or more points, and fifth time with at least 38 points. The last time Western scored 40-plus points in a game that many times was during the 2010 campaign, scoring 40-plus on five occasions.
• Western out-gained MSU 531-410 in total offense but lost the time of possession battle 31:36-28:24.
• WIU went 7-of-13 on third down while holding MSU to 7-of-16 success rate.
• Of Western’s seven touchdowns scored, not a one came in the red zone. The Leathernecks did not have a red zone scoring opportunity.