Monday
Oct072002

SIU defeats No. 8 Western Illinois in final seconds, snaps 18-game losing streak to Leathernecks

With six seconds left in the game, redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Sambursky took the snap and rolled out toward the right sidelines.

He had a receiver wide open in the back of the end zone but could not get the ball to him.

Just as it looked as if Sambursky might take the ball in himself, he flicked it over an oncoming defender right into the waiting hands of fullback Brandon Robinson.

As the referee raised his arms signaling the touchdown, more than 9,000 fans at McAndrew Stadium went completely insane.

"I fell down and I just heard the crowd go nuts," Sambursky said. "That's when all the euphoria hit. It was unbelievable."

SIU defeated No. 8 Western Illinois 54-52 Saturday afternoon in what is sure to go down as one of the most memorable games in school history. It was the first time since 1983 that the Salukis have beaten the in-state rival Leathernecks.

Western opened the game with a quick scoring drive that took just over four minutes off the clock. Then the Salukis went to work, scoring on their next three drives and jumping to an early 21-7 lead.

SIU extended its lead to 17 points late in the second half when senior placekicker Scott Everhart booted a 37-yard field goal, which put the Salukis up 31-14. The field goal was Everhart's 33rd of his career, which broke the school record.

The Leathernecks scored on a three-yard run by Attley Lawson, but SIU had the last laugh in the first half, when Everhart hit a career-best 48-yarder with five seconds left to give the Dawgs a 34-21 halftime lead.

Western started coming back in the third quarter as it scored the only 10 points of the quarter on a touchdown reception by Stacy Coleman and a Justin Langan field goal, which made the score 34-31.

SIU began to pull away in the fourth quarter when Sambursky hit freshman Brent Little for a 27-yard touchdown pass that put the Salukis up by 10. The touchdown was the first given up by the Western defense in the fourth quarter since last November.

A couple minutes later junior running back Muhammad Abdulqaadir broke away from Leatherneck defenders for an 80-yard touchdown run and what was seemingly the proverbial nail in the coffin.

Western, however, still had plenty of fight in it. Quarterback Russ Michna connected with tight end R.J. Luke for a pair of touchdowns that cut the Saluki lead to 48-45.

SIU could not get anything going on its next possession and punted it away to Western, which took the ball at its own 29-yard line. The Leathernecks quickly moved into Saluki territory before sacks by Lionel Williams and Royal Whitaker forced Western into a third-and-29 from the SIU 45 with less than two minutes left.

On the next play, Michna fumbled the snap and was flushed from the pocket, but he was able to hit Luke with a pass before being tackled. Luke did not make it far enough for the first down, but SIU was whistled for a two penalties.

The Salukis were called for pass interference and roughing the passer, which gave Western a first down and breathed new life into the Leathernecks. A few plays later Michna hooked up with Stacy Coleman from nine yards out for the go-ahead score.

With 1:11 on the clock, Sambursky began to lead his team down the field. He hit Robinson with a pair of 30-yard passes and Courtney Abbot for 25 yards that put SIU six yards out with nine seconds left.

Sambursky lobbed a pass to Abbot near the goal line, but the pass was incomplete, stopping the clock with six seconds left, which set up Robinson's game-winning catch.

"It was an emotional roller coaster out there at the end," Everhart said. "Everyone had faith. Everyone believed, and we believed in each other and it happened."

It appeared late in the game that SIU was once again going to blow a big lead and lose in the final minutes. The Salukis nearly gave away the game as they picked up several big penalties late in the contest.

SIU was whistled for 14 penalties in the game, totaling 123 yards. Kill said the penalties definitely hurt his team, but they did not kill it.

"A guy can get fired having 14 penalties," Kill said. "I don't like that at all. Three or four of them were very critical in the football game.

"What helped us out were the four turnovers. The penalties and the turnovers kinda equaled out and we got away with it."

The Salukis forced six Western fumbles and recovered four of them. Three of those came in the first half and lead to 17 points for SIU.

Abdulqaadir, who already holds the conference record for most rushing yards in a single game and back-to-back games, set the record for most yards in three consecutive games. He totaled 261 yards on the day, which gives him 837 in the last three contests.

With the win SIU improved to 3-3 on the season and 1-0 in the Gateway Conference. The Salukis are tied with Illinois State atop the conference standings.

Western fell to 4-1 and 1-1 in the conference.

SIU next takes on No. 6 Northern Iowa (3-2, 1-1) - which fell to Western Kentucky this weekend - at 7 p.m. Saturday at McAndrew Stadium.

"It's a great win, the first conference game," Robinson said. "We'll party tonight, but tomorrow it's back to work."

Saluki note ... During the post-game celebration Coach Kill collapsed on the field. Kill, who has a heart condition, was in good condition during the press conference and will be on the sidelines Saturday against Northern Iowa ... freshman receiver Kellen Allen injured his hand during the game and will likely miss the rest of the season.

Reporter Todd Merchant can be reached at tmerchant@dailyegyptian.com

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