CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The ship’s wheel is returning to Carbondale, as Southern Illinois maintained its grip in Thursday night’s War for the Wheel. In this annual rivalry game between the schools, the Salukis emerged victorious 47-21 against Southeastern Missouri (SEMO).
Sophomore quarterback Nic Baker set a school record of 460 yards passing in just over three quarters of work for the seventh-ranked Salukis.
Baker’s night started with a school record with a 99-yard touchdown pass to Avante Cox on the Salukis’ first offensive play.
His evening finished early in the fourth quarter following a 13-yard pass to Landon Lenoir for a touchdown. That resulted in the lead extending to 44-17 while Baker set the passing yardage record.
“I think (Baker) proved to everybody why he can be an elite player in this league, this country,” said SIU head coach Nick Hill.
Saluki offensive stats
Baker went 25-for-34, passing for four touchdowns and giving up only one interception. He was poised and in command of a potent offense one week removed from winning the QB battle over Stone Labanowitz.
Coming off a playoff season and with 32 fifth and sixth-year seniors, SIU entered the game as the favorite. No one expected a blowout, though, of a SEMO squad that was picked to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference. After the Redhawks (0-1) tied the game, 7-7, SIU ran off 31 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
“It’s a big game for us and (our players) respected that,” Hill said. “We played hard and we played disciplined. Our guys were focused to win this football game. Our guys have goals for this season and this is step one.”
Cox, a watch list candidate for the Payton Award, had five catches for 187 yards. However, lesser-known targets also shined, with Memphis transfer Tyce Daniel debuting at tight end. Daniel received the ball five times for a total of 62 yards. Also given an opportunity was sophomore Izaiah Hartrup, who made a reception for 12 yards to score a TD.
“The guys are just getting started with their chemistry,” Hill said. “That’s game four for (Baker) starting. Each week will create different challenges and obviously the next game is a huge challenge for us going to a Power 5 opponent (Kansas State), so we just have to keep growing as a team.”
Baker is 4-0 as a starter at SIU.
“I think I have the right attitude and people believe in me and people want to get behind that,” Baker said. “We want to win every game we play, and to do that, you have to win the first one.”
Saluki defensive stats
SIU’s defense held SEMO to 243 total yards, and a relentless pass rush made life miserable for SEMO quarterback CJ Ogbonna. In his Redhawk debut, he was sacked four times and hit several more times just as he released the ball. He finished the night 9-of-19 for 47 yards.
“We got after him,” Hill said. “We got the lead early and put hits on the quarterback and made it tough on him.”
Veterans Keenan Agnew, Anthony Knighton, and Bryce Notree were credited with sacks in the game. The same is also true for SDSU transfer Kevin Glajchen and Miami (Oh.) transfer Richie Hagarty.
“We’re real physical up front — real big, real nasty,” said Notree.
“We definitely controlled the line of scrimmages,” added Hill.
Full box score and stats
10:35– SIU – Cox, Avante 99 yd pass from Baker, Nic (Gualdoni, Nico kick) 1 plays, 99 yards, TOP 0:13
05:17– SEMO – SMITH, Zack 15 yd pass from OGBONNA, CJ (PIPPIN, DC kick) 9 plays, 65 yards, TOP 5:18
02:31– SIU – Daniel, Tyce 16 yd pass from Baker, Nic (Gualdoni, Nico kick) 7 plays, 75 yards, TOP 2:46
12:32– SIU – Hartrup, Izaia 12 yd pass from Baker, Nic (Gualdoni, Nico kick) 10 plays, 63 yards, TOP 3:55
05:29– SIU – Strong, Justin 22 yd run (Gualdoni, Nico kick), 4 plays, 70 yards, TOP 1:39
12:48– SIU – Gualdoni, Nico 28 yd field goal 7 plays, 64 yards, TOP 2:12
08:09– SIU – Williams Jr.,J 1 yd run (Gualdoni, Nico kick), 8 plays, 75 yards, TOP 2:44
06:16– SEMO – MATTHEWS, Mike 10 yd interception (CURNO, Clark kick)
13:09– SIU – Lenoir, Landon 13 yd pass from Baker, Nic (Gualdoni, Nico kick failed) 9 plays, 78 yards, TOP 3:55
10:47– SIU – Gualdoni, Nico 25 yd field goal 4 plays, 19 yards, TOP 1:00
01:44– SEMO – TODD, Garrett 6 yd pass from PEREZ, C. (PIPPIN, DC kick) 10 plays, 53 yards, TOP 5:33
Salukis return to action next week
The Salukis head back on the road to take on Kansas State on September 11. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast of Big 12 Now and ESPN+.
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.