Missouri State answered a second-half surge from No. 9 Illinois State with 14 unanswered points and a last-second block of a game-tying field-goal attempt to finish off a 24-21 victory over the Redbirds in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both clubs Saturday afternoon at Robert W. Plaster Stadium.
The Bears’ second-straight victory over a ranked opponent—their first such two-game win streak since the 1989 season—came on the heels of a dominant first-half performance, followed by a big rally from the Redbirds in the third quarter.
After Illinois State (3-1, 0-1 MVFC) pulled to within three points on James Robinson’s acrobatic catch and 43-yard run with 3:15 left in the game, the Redbirds manufactured one last scoring chance, only to see Darius Joseph come up with the game-clinching block on Sam Fenlason’s 32-yard field goal try as the final seconds ticked away.
After being held scoreless on just 73 yards of total offense in the opening half, Illinois State scored on a pair of Brady Davis-to-Spencer Schnell scoring passes within a span of 2:40 early in the third period to put the Redbirds in front.
Missouri State (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) responded, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on Donovan Daniels’ five-yard run late in the third period, before stretching the margin to 24-14 when Jason Randall punched it home from a yard out with 7:56 left in regulation.
MSU appeared to be in full command with just over five minutes left in the game, as Robinson was stopped short of the marker on a fourth-and-one call at the MSU 7, preserving the 10-point cushion.
But the Redbird defense came through with a quick stop, before Robinson took a swing pass and spun out of a tackle before beating several MSU defenders to the end zone to make it a one-possession game.
The ISU defense delivered once again on the ensuing MSU drive, stopping the Bears on three successive rushing attempts to force a Brendan Withrow punt. Robinson moved the chains with a 12-yard run on a third-and-10 call, before Davis hooked up with Schnell once again for a key 37-yard gain to the MSU 30.
However, a facemask penalty on the Redbirds gave the Bears a reprieve and pushed the line of scrimmage back to the 45. With just 0:14 left on the clock, Davis found Robinson for an 18-yard completion to the Bears 15, bringing on Fenlason for a chance to even the score with four seconds to play.
But Joseph, who also logged a season-high eight tackles for the MSU defense, came through with the decisive block as time expired, handing the Bears a win over their highest-ranked opponent since a home decision over No. 6 UNI (also by a 24-21 score) on Oct. 8, 2005.
The victory also gave Dave Steckel first three-game win streak as MSU’s head coach, and marked the first such streak for the Bears since winning four straight games five years ago (Oct. 19-Nov. 9, 2013).
In all, the MSU defense held ISU to 128 yards rushing and just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions for the afternoon. Additionally, the Bears kept Robinson–the Valley’s second-leading rusher–in check with just 54 rushing yard on 13 carries.
McNeece Egbim led the way, totaling nine stops, including a sack, while Eric Johnson and Matt McClellan teamed up to wreak havoc on the ISU offense. The duo combined for nine tackles, five quarterback hurries and two sacks, and Angelo Garbutt added six tackles and three hurries.
Missouri State grabbed the lead late in the opening period, moving the ball to the ISU 25 on its third offensive possession of the game, before Parker Lacina booted a career-long 42-yard field goal to put the Bears on top, 3-0.
Randall, who led the Bears with 63 rushing yards, ripped off a 12-yard run to take the ball into ISU territory, before the Bears benefited from an illegal substitution penalty on a third-and-short attempt to gain a fresh set of downs at the Redbird 27.
Randall and the Bears engineered a 95-yard drive over a six-minute stretch spanning the final 1:43 of the first quarter and the first 4:17 of the second, only to come up just short of the goal line. After Peyton Huslig completed a 36-yard pass to Damoriea Vick to move the Bears into the red zone, MSU handed the ball to Randall on five straight plays to set up a third-and-goal at the ISU 1. But an incomplete pass and a Randall rush for no gain halted the 16-play drive without a payout on the scoreboard for MSU.
The Bears hiked their lead to 10-0 on their next possession, however, taking advantage of a midfield starting position and a pair of third-down conversions before Huslig’s five-yard run capped the scoring drive with 5:18 left on the clock.
With offense hard to come by in the opening stages, the Bears defense dictated play throughout the first 30 minutes of action, forcing punts on five of the Redbirds’ six offensive possessions. ISU’s best scoring chance came midway through the first quarter, after JT Bohlken pinned the Bears at their own 3 with a 51-yard punt. After a three-and-out, a short MSU punt handed ISU the ball at the MSU 32. But three straight Brady Davis incompletions negated the break, and Fenlason missed wide right on a 49-yard field goal try.
MSU forced punts on three-and-out possessions on each of the next two Redbird drives, and the Bears would allow just two more first downs before intermission. The Bears out-gained ISU by a 248-73 margin in the half, limiting the Redbirds to 1-of-7 third-down conversions.
Vick turned in career-best totals for catches (7) and receiving yards (99) to lead all receivers, while Huslig tallied his fifth 200-yard passing game as a Bear, completing 22-of-32 passes for 232 yards.
Up next, the Bears travel to Vermillion, S.D., for a 2 p.m., MVFC kickoff against South Dakota next Saturday (Oct. 6) at the DakotaDome.
Game recap courtesy of Missouri State Athletics.