Game puts both teams’ playoff bids at stake

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

When the Jackrabbit football team squares off against Southern Illinois, a playoff spot might not be on the line, but it sure is close.

The two teams will meet for the first time Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. in Carbondale, Ill. Both teams are tied with Northern Iowa atop the Missouri Valley Football Conference with one conference loss.

The Jacks (6-4, 5-1) have won three straight games by 30 points or more for the first time since 1954, but they will also get their first true challenge since a 42-28 setback at the hands of Cal Poly.

The Jacks are coming off a 52-21 win against Illinois State, during which senior Ryan Berry had one of the best passing days in school history. Berry threw for seven touchdowns, a school and MVFC record, and also broke records for career touchdowns (52) and career completions (477).

“You couldn’t script anything like that,” Berry, the MVFC offensive player of the week, said after the game. “It was awesome. I can’t really describe it.”

The Jackrabbit offense has put up 40 or more points seven times this season, including five of their last six games. Sophomore Kyle Minett leads the Jacks on the ground, gaining over 100 yards rushing the last three games, including 205 yards against Missouri State.

“The fact that our offense is playing very well is a comfortable feeling,” Stiegelmeier said. “The fact is football is three phases (offense, defense and special teams), and there are 50 some guys playing every game; everyone needs to play their best football.”

While the Jacks are starting to get things rolling offensively, the Saluki defense will be something they have not seen before. The SIU defense is “very fast” and comparable to UNI, Stiegelmeier said.

“It’s not going to be easy to move the ball against them,” Stiegelmeier said. “They slant a lot, they’re very quick and they’re not very big. We just need to be able to pick up their movement.”

The defense is a strong suit for the Salukis, giving up 20 points a game and just over 300 yards a game. Southern Illinois is very stout against the run, allowing just over 98 yards a game, but they can also defend the pass, as cornerback Korey Lindsey was named the MVFC defensive player of the week after his two interceptions against Western Illinois.

While the defense is strong, the offense is balanced. They are averaging close to 184 yards passing and 180 yards rushing a game. Chris Dieker has thrown for 1,500 yards and 13 scores, while Larry Warner leads the Saluki rushing attack, averaging 116 yards a game and scoring eight times. The Jacks will try to bottle up Warner because “he won’t run anyone over,” according to Stiegelmeier.

Even though the Jacks focus on being 1-0 every week, they know they have to win to have a shot at making the playoffs.

“I think we all daydream about that possibility,” Stiegelmeier said. “As a guy is walking from psychology to math class, for him to think, ‘You know if we win this one and win North Dakota State.’ I think that’s a natural occurrence. If you’re in Carbondale and thinking about North Dakota State, then we’re in trouble.”