CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — With his team trailing at halftime, 15-0, behind a lackluster performance by the offense, Southern Illinois Salukis football head coach Nick Hill lit a fire under his offensive unit, specifically calling out quarterback Nic Baker and challenging the group to step up.
Baker responded by throwing for 404 yards in the second half alone to rally his team to an improbable, heart-stopping, 26-25 victory over No. 12-ranked SEMO. With 11 seconds remaining in the game, the senior QB lasered a nine-yard touchdown pass to Izaiah Hartrup in the back of the end zone on fourth down for the game-winner.
“Nic’s had some gutsy performances, but 400 yards in a half, multiple fourth-down pickups, fourth down to win the game,” Hill marveled. “He just doesn’t get rattled. Just having that moxie about himself, that’s what makes him one of the greatest quarterbacks to play here.”
After throwing two first-half interceptions deep in SEMO territory, Baker finished the day by completing 35-of-51 passes for 458 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Coach) called me out in front of the team and said I need to make some plays,” Baker said. “I challenge myself enough, but just hearing that and knowing my team needed me, I just had to get it done.”
SIU All-American safety PJ Jules, who finished the game with a career-high 15 tackles, said he knew Baker would deliver.
“Fun fact — at halftime, I looked at Nic, he looked at me, he said, ‘I got you,’ ” Jules recalled. “I said, ‘I got you, too.’ He came through and we made it happen as a team.”
Southern turned the ball over four times in the game, including a pair of fumbles inside the SEMO 20 in the second half, but Baker kept bringing the team back.
Trailing, 25-13, early in the fourth quarter, Baker led a 13-play 76-yard touchdown drive that featured conversions on 4th-and-5 and 4th-and-6. The drive was capped by a 15-yard touchdown strike to Hartrup with 7:40 left that narrowed the deficit to 25-20.
Defense was key for Salukis
The defense also did its part. Late in the game, with SIU out of timeouts, SEMO only needed to convert a 3rd-and-4 situation near midfield to be able to take a knee and run out the clock.
Instead, SIU safety Desman Hearns stripped the ball from tailback Geno Hess to give the Salukis possession at the SEMO 38 with 1:46 remaining.
Baker then hit D’Ante Cox for nine yards and Aidan Quinn for 11 more to set up the ball at the SEMO 18. An incomplete pass, a short completion to Romeir Elliott, and a sack left Southern with one last chance at the SEMO 9.
Baker found Hartrup in the back of the end zone, but said the wideout was actually his third or fourth read on the play.
“You gotta win on this, you have to”
“I knew I had a back-side dig and I told Izaiah before the play, ‘you gotta win on this, you have to,'” Baker said. “Once I saw it was cloudy, I tried to get it back to him. When you feel it, you feel it.”
“On that particular play, it’s not a route that we throw to too much,” Hartrup admitted. “But they happened to man me up back-side. As soon as I got manned up, it was my job to get open and win. Bake saw me and was able to connect.”
The No. 15-ranked Salukis are 3-0 for the first time since 2014, and after the final seconds ticked off the clock, the players sprinted to the west end zone to claim the ship’s wheel — the trophy that goes to the winner of the War for the Wheel. They brought the wheel to the visiting sideline to sing the school fight song to a large contingent of Saluki fans who made the trek.
“Our fans were outstanding,” Hill said. “Any time you can go on the road and feel like the momentum switched and you kind of have the home-field advantage, it’s big. Shout-out to Saluki Nation for making the trip. It’s a game we’ll always remember for sure.”
Salukis vs. Redhawks: By the numbers
|03:00 – SE – Pippin,DC 48 yd field goal 10 plays, 38 yards, TOP 03:13||0||3|
|13:13 – SE – Pippin,DC 39 yd field goal 9 plays, 41 yards, TOP 03:51||0||6|
|10:57 – SE – 0 yd safety||0||8|
|04:36 – SE – Sellers,Mitchell 21 yd pass from DeLaurent,Paxton (Pippin,DC kick) 8 plays, 98 yards, TOP 03:45||0||15|
|11:12 – SIU – Elliott,Ro 5 yd run ( ), 9 plays, 90 yards, TOP 03:45||6||15|
|08:32 – SIU – Davis,Vinson 68 yd pass from Baker,Nic (Burks,Thomas kick) 2 plays, 72 yards, TOP 00:31||13||15|
|06:36 – SE – Hess,Geno 9 yd run (Pippin,DC kick), 7 plays, 70 yards, TOP 01:52||13||22|
|12:37 – SE – Pippin,DC 40 yd field goal 8 plays, 70 yards, TOP 03:11||13||25|
|07:40 – SIU – Hartrup,Izaiah 15 yd pass from Baker,Nic (Burks,Thomas kick) 13 plays, 76 yards, TOP 04:51||20||25|
|00:11 – SIU – Hartrup,Izaiah 9 yd pass from Baker,Nic ( ) 6 plays, 38 yards, TOP 01:35||26||25|
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.
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