Western Illinois Football: Leathernecks Fall in Season Opener


FLORENCE, Ala. – The Western Illinois football team kicked off its 2019 season on the road Thursday night (August 29), where scores were plenty in the first half, but in the end, North Alabama claimed the win, 26-17. 

“They outplayed us in a lot of different ways tonight. There was not just one [play] there were several,” said head coach Jared Elliott. “We gave up way too many big, explosive plays on defense and hurt ourselves early in the game with a critical turnover on special teams. And then offensively, we were unable to do the things we needed to consistently and find a rhythm.” 

The sides combined for 59 yards of total offense midway through the opening quarter, but tides began to change around the five-minute mark. The shift was the direct result of a Leatherneck turnover — which resulted in the first touchdown of the evening – and by halftime, the score read 19-14 for UNA.  

Western found the end zone for the first time at the 4:08-mark of the second frame when Deontez Thompson punched through the gap for a nine-yard rush. The senior back was one of nine starters who made their Leatherneck debut, and his first six-pointer crowned Western’s longest drive at 10 plays and 84 yards.

Twenty-seven points were scored in the second quarter alone, and after each Western score, the Lions responded with one of their own. 

Thompson’s rushing TD (4:08) was met with a 75-yard touchdown pass (3:57).  And, when Western blocked and recovered a punt in the end zone (1:39), North Alabama converted a field goal as time expired.  Jared Drake, one of five captains this season, received credit for the block at the UNA two-yard line, and Herschel Blankenship notched his first career touchdown on the recovery. 

Western’s next best scoring opportunity occurred near the end of the third quarter where a field goal was missed wide left. Neither team scored in the final frame, and the Lions edged WIU, 7-3, in the third. 

“We’ve got to get back to work,” Elliott continued. “As hard as it is, and as painful as it is, we have a choice to make. It’s a gut check. We’ve got to take this as a learning moment and not let it define us.” 

Western continues its season-opening road trip at Colorado State next Saturday, September 7. The game will air on AT&T SportsNet with a 3 p.m. start.


· Thursday’s season-opener marked the first meeting between the two, and North Alabama’s first time hosting a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent since the 1992 season
· In his first collegiate start, Connor Sampson went 18-30 with one interception
· Five different Leatherneck receivers combined for 183 yards, while seven rushers added 119
· Kyle Williams guided the defense with nine tackles, followed by Tom Rehfeld (8) and Zach Glisan (8); Rehfeld added a team-high 2.5 TFLs
· Western has now blocked a punt for a touchdown in back-to-back seasons; Joe Turk (block) and Daymon Murray (return) last did so at South Dakota (2018)

Spread the word

Trending Now

Featured Sports Podcasts

Choose a Category

Continue Reading