ISU takes the bite out of Coyotes in Homecoming game

The Illinois State Redbirds defeated the University of South Dakota Coyotes 37-21 in the ISU Homecoming football game Saturday, Oct. 21.

The Illinois State Redbirds defeated the University of South Dakota Coyotes 37-21 in the ISU Homecoming football game Saturday, Oct. 21.

Saturday was the epitome of college football – a sunny, 73-degree day; ISU students, both current and alumni, parents, and Redbird fans streaming into Hancock Stadium from all directions; the surrounding parking lots and front yards were packed with tailgaters dressed head to toe in red, grilling out, playing bags and frisbee.

ISU had a challenge ahead of them in this game, as USD was coming in with an undefeated record and had beat ISU 27-24 in their 2016 matchup.

USD won the coin toss and chose to kick first, booting the ball to ISU’s 20 yard line. On third down, quarterback Jake Kolbe, a junior, launched a 64-yard touchdown pass to #11 junior wide receiver Spencer Schnell. After an extra point kick from kicker Sean Slattery, the Redbirds were up 7-0 a minute and a half into the game.

“Jake found me right past the [line]backer. When I turned upfield, all I saw was daylight,” Schnell commented on his touchdown play.

USD’s attempt at a game-tying drive was unsuccessful after Redbird defensive linemen Dalton Keene executed an 8-yard sack on first down.

After a three-and-out drive for both teams, ISU started again at their own 17 yard line. Facing a long third and nine, Kolbe completed a 16-yard pass to Robert Gillum, a redshirt freshman. The most impressive play of the drive came in the form of a 22-yard rush from sophomore running back Markel Smith. With this gain, Kolbe was set up to deliver another end zone pass to Schnell.

With ISU up 14-0 and nearly double the time of possession, it looked like the Redbirds were going to dominate the game. The Coyotes, however, had other plans in mind. USD quarterback Chris Streveler led two scoring drives, breaking more than three would-be sacks from the ISU defensive line.

The Redbirds struggled to make tackles, failing to wrap up on plays that could have been USD losses. The Coyotes took advantage of the poor tackling, breaking out of the backfield for many small gains. These small gains combined together for first downs that resulted in USD outscoring ISU 14-3 in the second quarter, culminating in a score of 17-14 ISU at the half.

The 20-minute break seemed to put the wind back under the Redbirds’ wings as they came out with an impressive 86-yard drive, 71 of which came on a career-long pass from Kolbe. James Robinson, sophomore running back, capped off the drive with a 14-yard rush to the end zone, setting the Redbirds up with a comfortable 24-14 lead just under 2 minutes into the second half.

After posting a career-high 193 rushing yards, Robinson had only positive words, saying “They were undefeated so that gave us a lot of energy to show people.”

ISU carried their lead through the end of the third quarter, but the Coyotes capitalized early in the fourth quarter bringing the score to 24-21. However, that was the last time USD was to score.

USD head coach Bob Neilson recognized his team’s inability to convert, saying “We got away from it at times when we should have stayed with it.”

Receiving the kickoff after USD’s touchdown, ISU drove down the field as far as the USD 11 yard line, but penalties forced them backward and they had to kick a 43-yard field goal, resulting in a 27-21 lead.

The final touchdown of the game, a career-long 87-yard run from Robinson, capped off an incredible 46 second, 90-yard drive with a 34-21 advantage.

“We made big plays,” head coach Brock Spack said about his team.

ISU ended their last scoring drive with a field goal, with the final score at 37-21.

Homecoming is a celebration of past victories, but this game indicates good things in the Redbirds’ future. “This is really big for our young team. We’re going to enjoy this,” Coach Spack spack. After this victory, ISU is tied with USD for second in the Missouri Valley Conference.

ISU, now 5-2, will face conference rival Youngstown State Penguins, 3-4, on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium in Youngstown, Ohio.