Berry, seven TD’s force ‘Birds to fly back south to Illinois

Ariy-El Boynton

Ariy-El Boynton

Conventional football wisdom says when the temperatures are frigid, teams should run the ball. Illinois State’s defense was guarding against the run.

The Jacks just passed over the defense.

Ryan Berry threw for seven touchdowns, and the Jacks beat the Redbirds 52-21 on Nov. 8. A small crowd of 3,276 witnessed the game at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, along with a Fox Sports national audience.

Berry’s last scheduled game was a memorable one to say the least. His seven touchdown passes eclipsed SDSU’s single-day record by two and broke the single-game Missouri Valley Football Conference (formerly Gateway Football Conference) record early in the fourth quarter.

Berry, on Senior Day, passed for touchdown strikes of 11, 51, 40, 8, 16, 4 and 3 yards.

While Berry was pleased with the records he broke, his biggest goal was to get the conference victory.

The Jacks broke out to a 24-point lead and scored on seven straight possessions. The only SDSU points which Berry was not involved with was seven extra point kicks by place-kicker Peter Reifenrath and Reifenrath’s 27-yard field goal.

Conference reception leader Glen Fox had three touchdown grabs, and tight end Colin Cochart had two touchdown receptions. Running back Kyle Minett and Mike Steffen had a touchdown catch, each.

“That’s a testament to our offense. We have a good offense,” Berry said. “(Kyle) Minett got the running game going, and our guys get open and catch the ball. They make my job easy.”

Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier was proud of his whole team, not just “record breakers.”

“(I am) proud of our football program, proud of our football team,” said the 11th-year head coach. “I thought we handled the weather very well, the adversity that the Lord presented today in Brookings, South Dakota.”

In the second quarter, Illinois was able to gain some yards and took advantage of soft defense from senior SDSU cornerback Adam Fritz. Illinois State quarterback Kevin Brockway tossed to Eyad Salem for a 6-yard touchdown. Later in the first half, Illinois transfer Walter Mendehall added a 1-yard plunge to bring the score 14-31. However, the weather conditions and SDSU’s play were too much for ISU.

Not playing a game on a grass surface for nearly a year worried ISU’s head coach Denver Johnson.

The worry was meet with actual problems.

“It was really cold for a lot of us, and that was a big factor,” said Illinois State linebacker Tony Trujillo. “They got rolling, today. We just got beat.”

Fox’s 51-yard touchdown grab came by way of a Redbird falling down on the grass.

While the SDSU’s offense along with Minett’s 163 yards on the ground showed off good numbers, the Jacks’ defense showed up in full force.

Illinois State only gained two yards in the first quarter, and the Redbirds only broke out of the negative yard mark in its last play from scrimmage.

A trio of linebackers led the Jacks in tackles.

Isaiah Jackson led all Jackrabbit defenders with nine tackles, and Jimmy Rogers was third on the team with seven.

Jackrabbit middle-linebacker Chris Johnson had eight tackles and changed the momentum in the early going with an interception.

After five runs from Minett, Berry hit sophomore Cochart for his first touchdown.

The coin toss marked an odd occurrence for a football game. The Jacks won the toss, and instead of accepting the ball in the first half or deferring to the second half, the Jacks choose to defend and have the wind at their advantage.

The result was that the Redbirds got the ball in both the first and second halves.

Stiegelmeier was happy that the coin-flip strategy worked.

The Jacks will travel to Southern Illinois next week in a match-up of two first-place conference teams.