MACOMB, Ill. – In front of its home crowd, in its first home game of the season, the Western Illinois football team (1-2) posted its first win.
The Leathernecks trailed No. 15/16 Montana (2-1) by 10 points, before scoring a pair of touchdowns in the final six minutes of the 31-27 victory. Saturday’s success (Sept. 15) marked the team’s first under head coach Jared Elliott.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me, how much I just love this university and how proud I am to be the head coach here,” said Elliott. “I love the young men in our locker room and what’s amazing is what we’ve learned here, time and time again. I never doubt, I never question these guys because they know how to fight. They compete and continue to play no matter what the scoreboard says, and they did that today. They found a way.”
Defense was the name of the game, and the Leathernecks’ defense paved the way for the final two scores.
After a pooch punt pinned Montana at its two-yard line, the defense held tight for a three-and-out, where captain Quentin Moon was credited with a tackle on every play. Steve McShane returned the ensuing punt 58 yards down the sideline for his fourth touchdown of the season, and on the very first play of the Griz’s next drive, Justin Fitzpatrick and Zach Muniz, combined on a forced fumble and recovery.
The drive began at UM’s 43-yard line and led to McShane’s second trip to the end zone on an 11-yard reception.
“Going in there with five minutes left in the game, our defense had been playing well,” continued Elliott. “We put our defense in some rough spots, and they responded all day, so I knew if we could execute a good pooch and pin them back, it’d make them go the whole field. Whenever you can get an offense pinned back like that it limits their playbook, it shrinks it, and so I rolled the dice. I was confident in our defense, and those guys went three-and-out and gave us the ball back.”
The first five plays of the game were just as exciting as the closing minutes. There was a 71-yard touchdown reception by John Brunnerand a forced fumble and recovery by Moon at Montana’s 22-yard line; all of it occurred with a little over two minutes (2:05) shaved off the clock.
The Griz went on to outscore Western, 27-3, through the opening minutes of the final quarter, but couldn’t outlast the Fighting Leatherneck spirit as Eric Carrera cemented the win on an interception with 1:09 left.
Following a bye week, the Leathernecks will return to Hanson Field Saturday, Sept. 29, in a Homecoming matchup against Youngstown State. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
• John Brunner finished the first quarter with 144 receiving yards – nearly triple the yardage from his first two games combined – and two touchdowns
• Jared Elliott recorded his first career win as a head coach; he served as the Leathernecks’ assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator from 2016-17
• Sean McGuire recorded a season-high 360 passing yards (26-45-1) to rank 19th in Western’s single-game record list
• Zach Glisan finished with a game-high 15 tackles (11 solo)