CARBONDALE — A completed Hail Mary pass from Southern Illinois Salukis quarterback Nic Baker to wide receiver Jay Jones came up one yard shy of the goal line on the final play of the game, allowing Northern Iowa to escape with a 37-36 win in a wild one at Saluki Stadium on Saturday.
The No. 20-ranked Salukis (5-4, 4-2) had two chances in the final minute to pull out the victory. With 47 seconds remaining, SIU kicker Jake Baumgarte missed a potential go-ahead 41-yard field goal wide right.
After the defense produced a three-and-out, Southern took possession with 29 seconds left, at its own 30-yard line. Baker completed two passes, plus an offsides penalty on the Panthers (5-4, 4-2), to place the ball at the UNI 43 with time for one more play. Baker rolled to his right and let fly a pass from midfield that Jones leaped high to grab at the UNI 3. After the catch, he turned and dove toward the goal line, where his knee hit the ground just shy of a game-winner. The replay review confirmed the call on the field.
“That could have been a defining moment in that stadium if it came out a different way,” said SIU head coach Nick Hill. “There’s never one play that gets you beat.”
The loss marked the second time this season for Southern where the outcome was decided on the final play.
“It’s mega-disappointing,” said SIU fullback Jacob Garrett. “We’ve had two games come down to the wire like that at home, SEMO, and now this one. It just stinks.”
Baker completed 34-of-48 passes with three touchdowns and finished with a school-record 485 yards passing, but he would have gladly traded the record for the W.
“We fought our tail off,” Baker said. “It’s not on any one person. There’s a lot of stuff we could have done better individually.”
It was a banner day for both quarterbacks as Northern QB Theo Day connected on 27-of-32 attempts for 330 yards and five TDs.
The Salukis trailed at halftime, 28-17, but on the first play of the third quarter, blitzing linebacker Makel Calhoun blasted Day for a sack that jarred the ball loose. Teammate Kameron Bowdry fell on the football at the UNI 14.
Two plays later, Southern found the end zone, as Baker hit Remington Lutz for 10 yards, and Javon Williams Jr. bulldozed in for the final four. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score, 28-23.
After Northern Iowa’s Matthew Cook made a 26-yard field goal to put the Panthers up, 31-23, Southern marched 75 yards in six plays for a touchdown. The big play in the drive was a 45-yard completion down the left sideline to Ro Elliott, and Shaun Lester later carried it in from two yards out. Once again, the two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 31-29.
The Salukis took the lead early in the fourth quarter, as Baker guided a nine-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown strike from Baker to Avante Cox, to put SIU up, 36-31, with 11:18 remaining.
Day led the Panthers on a go-ahead TD drive, that was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Southern that wiped out a 3rd-and-8 scenario and moved the ball into Saluki territory.
Trailing, 37-36, the Salukis drove 52 yards and used up 5:23 of the game clock before settling for Baumgarte’s missed field goal. Prior to the kick, they had the ball 1st-and-10 at the UNI 26, but Williams Jr. was dropped for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-5 at the UNI 21.
“As a coach, you have to look at the five or six plays, the five or six calls you could have done differently to lead up to the defining moment in the game,” Hill said.
Salukis off next week before hosting ND State
Southern gets its bye week next Saturday before hosting North Dakota State on Nov. 12.
“Our season comes down to — we have to find a way to win the next time we step back out there at home,” Hill said.
Tom Weber joined Saluki Athletics as director of media services in July 2001 and currently serves the department as Associate AD for Communications. The communications team, which includes media services, marketing, broadcasting, and video services, works together to publicize, promote and generate content for the University's 17 varsity athletic teams. Weber is the primary sports information content for football and men's golf, and the secondary contact for men's basketball.
Weber is a 1991 graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in journalism and political science. He obtained a master's degree in sports management from Marshall University in 1995. Prior to SIU, Weber worked five years as an assistant sports information director at Vanderbilt University, one year as an intern at Ohio State, and two years as a graduate assistant at Marshall.
Tom and his wife, Sally, reside in Carterville with their sons, Tom and Colton.