By Eric Doennig
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of Missouri State athletics
SPRINGFIELD, MO. — Using both its first-half scoring burst and a shutdown defensive effort, Illinois State handed Missouri State a 38-2 homecoming defeat Saturday afternoon in Missouri Valley Football Conference action at Robert W. Plaster Stadium.
Tre Roberson threw three first-half touchdown passes to Anthony Warrum and totaled 345 yards of offense, while the ISU defense stifled the Bears’ attack to match its largest win in history of the 36-game series.
Roberson, who completed 15-of-23 passes for 304 yards and rushed seven times for 41 yards, led the Redbirds on back-to-back, eight-play scoring drives on their first two offensive possessions of the afternoon, each of which was capped with a touchdown pass to Warrum.
From there, the fourth-ranked Redbirds (5-1, 3-0 MVFC) never looked back, building a 31-point halftime edge before cruising to their seventh-consecutive Valley victory.
ISU, which outgained the Bears (1-5, 0-3 MVFC) by a 379 to 105 margin in the first half, engineered four touchdown drives of 71 yards or more in the game’s first 30 minutes.
The Redbirds converted five of their seven third-down attempts in the half — and 10-of-14 for the game — as Marshaun Coprich totaled 123 of his game-high 139 rushing yards and Warrum gained all of his 194 receiving yards on seven catches before the break.
On the Redbirds’ opening drive, Roberson ripped off a 27-yard run on a third-and-short call, then finished the 83-yard march with a 20-yard toss to Warrum for an early 7-0 Illinois State lead.
ISU’s senior signal-caller hooked up with Warrum again on the Redbirds’ next drive, finding the MVFC’s leader in touchdown receptions wide open down the sideline for a 34-yard TD pass and a 14-point advantage with just under four minutes to play in the first quarter.
Next, ISU utilized a quick-strike attack to find the end zone on each of its first two plays from scrimmage in the second quarter. Moments after a season-long 57-yard punt by MSU’s Chris Sullens, Coprich sprinted 76 yards to pay dirt to extend the lead to 21 points.
After forcing a three-and-out on MSU’s ensuing possession, the Redbirds struck again, as Roberson connected with Warrum once more, and the junior receiver sliced his way through the Bears’ secondary for a 75-yard scoring play and a 28-0 ISU bulge.
MSU’s lone scoring opportunity was made possible when Eric Phillips fell on a loose ball at the ISU 36 after Dylan Cole jarred it free from Coprich’s grasp. Thanks to a 12-yard rush by Malik Earl on a reverse, the Bears moved the ball to the Redbirds 15 before ISU came up with a stop on a fake field goal attempt.
ISU completed its first-half scoring frenzy with a 12-play drive and a 39-yard Sean Slattery field goal with 29 seconds left on the clock.
It would be more of the same in the second stanza. On the Redbirds second possession of the third period, Coprich completed a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard plunge to stretch the margin to 38-0 with 6:41 left in the quarter.
MSU’s defense rose to the occasion from that point, limiting ISU to 193 yards of offense after intermission. The Bears also forced three fumbles for the first time since their 2013 meeting with the Redbirds, and Cole teamed up with Alexz Jones to stop George Moreira in the end zone for a safety midway through the fourth quarter to break up ISU’s shutout bid.
Jason Randall led the Bears with 62 rushing yards on 17 carries and also paced all MSU pass catchers with 21 receiving yards. Breck Ruddick added 57 yards on seven attempts, and Earl reeled in three receptions for the sixth consecutive game this season.
Missouri State returns to the road next weekend with an MVFC contest against South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D. Kickoff from the DakotaDome is slated for 2 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 24).
Noteworthy: Calan Crowder’s first rush of the game—a five-yarder on the Bears’ opening drive—put the sophomore over the 1,000-yard mark for his MSU career…Deion Holliman totaled 45 yards on three kickoff returns to move into the Bears’ top 10 for total kick return yardage in a single season; the sophomore has logged 528 return yards on 24 returns this fall…MSU’s three takeaways represents a season high; the Bears recovered three fumbles in a game for the first time since Sept. 28, 2013 vs. Illinois State…The Bears’ fourth-quarter safety marked their first in three seasons; MSU recorded two safeties in the same game vs. the Redbirds on Oct. 20, 2012…The late two-pointer for the MSU defense allowed the Bears to extend their scoring streak to 76 consecutive games; the last shutout for an MSU opponent came on Nov. 15, 2008…Dylan Cole led the Bears in tackles for the sixth straight game this season and surpassed the 200-tackle mark for his MSU career…MSU’s Homecoming attendance of 14,212 represents its fourth-best single-game crowd since Plaster Stadium’s renovation prior to the 2014 campaign.