After shutting down the offenses of playoff squads New Hampshire, Richmond and Weber State in successive weeks, the Tribe defense rolled into Carbondale, Ill. Saturday ready to face their toughest challenge of the season. Sixty minutes of play later, they proved yet again why they are the best defense in the FCS, holding Southern Illinois to a mere 187 yards of total offense to spur a 24-3 whitewash.
The win moved the no. 6 College into the FCS semifinals for the second time this decade, where it will face no. 2 Villanova in Philadelphia.
Southern Illinois had entered the game averaging 36.6 points and 230 yards rushing, and early on it looked like it would have little trouble replicating those numbers.
Quarterback Paul McIntosh took the first snap of the game 34 yards around the right side to the Tribe’s 36-yard line, and the Salukis settled for a 46-yard field goal to go ahead 3-0 early.
After a three-and-out for the College, Southern Illinois moved right back down the field. The Salukis reached the Tribe 22-yard line in 10 plays, but kicker Kyle Dougherty was short on a 39-yard field goal attempt, and the Salukis came up empty. It would be the last true scoring opportunity for the home side all afternoon.
After managing nine yards on their first three drives of the day, senior quarterback R.J. Archer finally got the Tribe offense moving early in the second quarter. Archer completed his first pass of the day on a 15-yard gain to senior wideout D.J. McAulay, and the drive ended with senior Brian Pate nailing a 36-yard field goal to even the score.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Archer got the Tribe moving again with a 27-yard completion to junior wideout Chase Hill, but the College stalled just into Southern Illinois territory. On fourth and five, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock gambled, calling up a fake punt that saw junior punter David Miller break free for a 12-yard scramble to pick up the first down. Three plays later, sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes rumbled into the end zone on a six-yard carry and the Tribe was up 10-3.
After the break, the defense continued to shut down the Saluki offense, as the home squad was unable to penetrate beyond the College’s 30-yard line. Grimes capped a Tribe drive with another touchdown run to put the Tribe up 17-3 and move Southern Illinois into desperation.
With nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, quarterback Chris Dieker, on in relief of McIntosh, went for it on fourth down and five at the Tribe 40, but his pass fell incomplete and the Salukis’ hopes effectively with it.
Archer took the Tribe right back down the field and Grimes picked up his third touchdown of the game on a nine-yard run to set the final margin at 24-3.
The win was the College’s 11th of the season and the 200th of Laycock’s career. More importantly, it puts the Tribe one victory away from a trip to Chattanooga, Tenn. for the FCS title game, a point the College has never reached.