MACOMB, Ill. – South Dakota State converted two first-quarter interceptions into touchdowns, providing an early spark in a 38-14 Jackrabbit victory over Western Illinois Saturday afternoon at Hanson Field.
The Jackrabbits, ranked 13th in this week's Sports Network media poll and 18th in the FCS Coaches' rankings, ended a three-game losing streak in improving to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. WIU dropped to 3-4 overall and 1-2 in league play.
Je Ryan Butler set the tone early for SDSU, intercepting a Trenton Norvell pass in Fighting Leatherneck territory on the opening drive of the game.
The Jackrabbit offense cashed in as junior quarterback Austin Sumner hit tight end Cam Jones down the left hash for a 24-yard touchdown pass on third-and-12 less than four minutes remaining in the game.
SDSU notched another takeaway on the next offensive play by the Leathernecks as Winston Wright stepped in front of a Norvell pass at the WIU 28.
Again the Jackrabbits turned a turnover into points. Sumner connected with Jason Schneider on a 24-yard pass play to the WIU 4 on the first play. Zach Zenner carried the ball to the 1, but was stuffed on consecutive runs before Sumner found Schneider in the back of the end zone on fourth down to push the SDSU lead to 14-0.
The interceptions by Butler and Wright were the first of four recorded by the Jackrabbit defense on the afternoon.
SDSU made it 17-0 late in the first quarter on a 48-yard field goal by Justin Syrovatka that tied his career long.
The Western Illinois offense mustered only one first down in its first six possessions, but got on track with a 12-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter. The Fighting Leathernecks converted on third-and-6 before J.C. Baker scampered 34 yards to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run on the next play.
After coming up empty on a trip inside the red zone earlier in the third quarter, the Jackrabbits built a 24-7 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Sumner to Illinois native Vince Benedetto.
WIU had a quick answer, marching 79 yards on seven plays in less than two minutes. Baker capped the drive with his second touchdown of the day, scoring from a yard out.
The momentum swung back in the Jackrabbits' favor on their first play of the ensuing drive. Zenner broke out of a tackle along the left sideline and motored into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds to play in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wright came up with his second interception of the day, which gave the Jackrabbits the ball at the WIU 23.
Sumner connected with Trevor Tiefenthaler on a 17-yard pass on the first play of the drive and Zenner scored from a yard out three plays later to build the Jackrabbit lead to the final margin of 38-14.
Sumner finished the day 21-of-35 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Schneider led the receiving corps with seven catches for 118 yards, with Tiefenthaler adding four catches for 61 yards. Zenner racked up 133 yards on 21 carries and two scores.
R.C. Kilgore led the Jackrabbit defense with 15 tackles. Chase Douglas added a pair of sacks.
Baker led the Fighting Leatherneck offense with 112 yards on 27 carries. Norvell completed 9-of-23 passes for 118 yards, but was intercepted four times. Joey Borsellino caught a team-high three passes for 40 yards.
SDSU held a 374-262 advantage in total offense.
J.J. Raffelson tallied 13 tackles to lead Western Illinois.
The Jackrabbits return to action Oct. 19 at Missouri State. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Plaster Field in Springfield, Mo.
SERIES: SDSU leads the all-time series, 7-4 … the Jackrabbits have won all six meetings between the two squads since SDSU joined the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2013 … Zenner recorded his sixth 100-yard game of the season and 15th of his career … Zenner also upped his season rushing touchdown total to 14, scoring at least two touchdowns for the sixth time this season … Sumner tied the school record for career completions of 514 previously set by Ryan Berry (2005-08) … Schneider posted his second 100-yard receiving game of the season … Kilgore recorded his fourth double-digit tackle game of the season … the Jackrabbits were 4-for-14 on third-down attempts, but 2-for-2 on fourth down … SDSU was penalized only three times for 32 yards, compared to six penalties for 60 yards by WIU … attendance was 10,232