Illinois State Constructs Comeback In Victory Over Western Illinois

Illinois State and Western Illinois face off for the first game of the FCS playoffs. (Paige Meisenheimer/Illinois State Vidette)Special to College Sports Journal

 

Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of Illinois State athletics.

 

NORMAL, IL. – After falling behind early in the third quarter, the Illinois State football team bounced back for a 36-19 win over Western Illinois in the second round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday afternoon before 6,124 fans at Hancock Stadium.

 

The Redbirds (10-2) used 217 yards rushing from FCS Offensive Player of the Year finalist and Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year Marshaun Coprich to edge out the Leathernecks (7-6). 

 

It was the senior’s third straight 200-yard game and his sixth career 200-plus yard performance.

 

Quarterback Tre Roberson also contributed a solid game on the ground with 111 yards and two scores. 

The pair helped the ‘Birds outlast a solid performance from WIU quarterback Sean Maguire, who finished with 341 yards passing with two touchdowns.

 

ISU started off hot with a first quarter touchdown run by Coprich, but a pair of turnovers allowed WIU to keep pace as the Redbirds went into the locker room at halftime with a 7-6 lead following a pair of field goals by the Leathernecks’ Luke Otto.

 

 The Leathernecks came out firing in the second half with a 91-yard drive on their first possession of the half to take a 12-7 lead following the blocked extra point attempt. 

 

However, the ‘Birds answered immediately with a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a five-yard rushing score from Roberson. The signal-caller then found Anthony Warrum in the end zone on the ensuing two-point conversion to make the score 15-12 in favor of the Redbirds. 

 

Warrum finished with 107 yards and a touchdown on six catches. The touchdown was the 14th on the year for Warrum, who now holds the ISU single season touchdown catches record after breaking a tie at 13 with Rickey Garrett (1998).

 

The touchdown drive ended up being a springboard for the Redbirds, as they marched the field on their next possession and Roberson outsprinted several defenders up the right sideline for a 22-12 lead. 

 

The team was able to match a WIU touchdown to make it 22-19 on the next drive with a 21-yard strike from Roberson to Warrum. Coprich then sealed the game with a 72-yard rushing touchdown with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. 

 

With the win the No. 2 seed Redbirds will now host No. 7 Richmond (9-3) Friday, Dec. 11, at Hancock Stadium beginning at 6:30 p.m. 

 

For the third straight meeting, Western Illinois took a third quarter lead on Illinois State. WIU closed out the season with its first winning record in five years.

 

The Leathernecks took a 12-7 lead in the third quarter following a 22-yard touchdown pass from Sean McGuire to Lance Lenoir. The second-seeded Redbirds (10-2) responded with two touchdown runs from quarterback Tre Roberson to take a 22-12 lead.

 

Western Illinois responded with a drive to cut the deficit to three points. McGuire found Jaelon Acklin for a 26-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.

 

The Redbirds made it a two possession game again with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 5:53 remaining and a score of 29-19 and added to the final margin with four minutes left on a Marshaun Coprich 72-yard touchdown run.

 

“Congratulations to Coach (Brock) Spack, his staff and their team,” WIU coach Bob Nielson said. “They played a really good football game. Obviously they’ve got a chance to win it all. They’ll have a tough game next week but they’re playing very well right now. They are doing what you have to do to win the playoffs.”

 

McGuire threw for a personal-best 341 yards on 22-of-43 passing with an interception and Lenoir caught eight passes for 97 yards while Smith (four catches) added 93 yards and Joey Borsellino (six receptions) contributed 91 receiving yards.

 

Brett Taylor again paced the Leatherneck defense with a game-high 14 tackles. Senior Dallas Nichols added nine and David Griffith made seven tackles. The Western Illinois defense held ISU to 132 passing yards, but the Redbirds had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the seniors Coprich (217) and Roberson (111).

 

For the fourth straight postseason appearance, Western won its opening round game and lost its next contest – now 7-10 all-time in the Division I postseason.

 

More from Bob Nielson:

 

“We had a couple turnovers there in the first half that we should have put points on the board and we didn’t. And in playoff games, you can’t leave points on the field. And we left a few of them there in the first half. It was a really hard fought football game. That first half was like playoff football; you need more defense than you expect, which is how you have to win national championships. You have to play great defense. The really disappointing thing is we gave them a couple big plays there in the second half, and they’ve got the personnel to be able to make big plays. That’s one of the things you have to do to beat Illinois State; you have to try to contain that big play capability, and we didn’t do as good of a job as we needed to in the second half. If you ask our guys right now, they’ll say our goal was to win a national championship, which is our goal every year. I was certainly proud of the way our guys fought through a very difficult schedule in a great league and put ourselves in position to play in the national playoffs. And I feel very confident today that we demonstrated that we were a deserving team playing one of the nation’s best, and playing them really tough.”

  

WIU GAME NOTES: 

 

Knuffman kicked his second and third career field goals from 40-plus yards… 

 

Lenoir caught a pass in his 30th consecutive game. The junior became just the second Leatherneck ever to reach at least 30 consecutive… 

 

Taylor caught a tipped pass and came up with his second career interception early in the second quarter…  

Lenoir set his seventh record (game, season, career) during the game. He enters his senior year with 197 receptions, 2,703 yards and 21 touchdowns – all WIU career records.Lenoir’s 1,635 all-purpose yards placed him eighth on the season top 10.

 

Acklin caught his second touchdown this season and in his career… 

 

Western started eight seniors on both sides of the ball and 10 underclassmen… 

 

ISU out-gained Western Illinois 482-359… 

 

The Leathernecks were 2-of-14 on third downs while ISU was 10-of-16… 

 

Both teams were flagged twice for 15 yards… 

 

Nikko Watson ended his career with 2,844 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in program history. The senior also rushed for 23 yards and had 13 100-yard games, both placing him in the top 10… 

 

The defense recorded 19 interceptions this year, the sixth-highest total in a season…

 

The 3,288 team passing yards were the second-highest total while the 254 completions tied the record… 

 

For just the fifth time in program history, the WIU offense surpassed 5,000 yards of total offense (5,119 – fifth most)… 

 

Borsellino moved into a tie for fourth place all-time with 144 receptions and he’s sixth with 1,863 yards all-time… 

 

Taylor finished the year with six takeaways (WIU record-tying four fumble recoveries and two interceptions) and 144 tackles… 

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