Jacks drop second conference game at home

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Illinois State scored on four consecutive second-half possessions and forced three turnovers in the final 17 minutes to defeat South Dakota State, 27-18, Saturday afternoon in a battle of nationally-ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference teams at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

Both teams ended the day 7-3 overall and with 4-2 records in the MVFC.

Illinois State, ranked 11th in the STATS FCS media poll and 12th by the Football Championship Subdivision coaches, scored three times – a pair of field goals and a touchdown – in the fourth quarter. The longest scoring drive by the Redbirds in the final stanza covered only 18 yards as they capitalized on an interception and two fumbles.

Sam Fenlason brought Illinois State within 18-16 with a 37-yard field goal a little over two minutes into the fourth quarter to start the rally. The Redbirds forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, recovering at the SDSU 18. Aided by an offside penalty against the Jackrabbits on third and goal from the 3-yard line, James Robinson plunged in from a yard out on the next play to give Illinois State the lead. The Redbirds added a two-point conversion for a 24-18 lead as quarterback Brady Davis threw back across the field to offensive lineman Drew Himmelman on a tackle-eligible play.

Two plays into the next SDSU drive, the Redbirds' Dylan Draka came up with a strip-sack fumble at the Jackrabbit 32. Fenlason then booted his fourth field goal of the game, a 46-yarder, for a two-score lead.

The fourth-quarter mistakes continued to mount for the Jackrabbits as their fate was sealed with just over four minutes to play, when backup kicker Cole Frahm, who had put the Jackrabbits on the board late in the first quarter with a 43-yard field goal, missed a 35-yarder.

The Redbirds then ran out the clock, picking up one first down on a pass play, followed by two first-down runs by Robinson. A STATS FCS Walter Payton Award candidate, Robinson finished with a game-high 98 yards on 24 rushing attempts.

After Illinois State capped a 10-play, 86-yard drive with a 12-yard pass from Davis to Tristan Bailey on the Redbirds' first offensive possession of the game, SDSU rattled off the next 11 points. Christian Rozeboom, who became the Jackrabbits' career tackles leader in Saturday's game, pulled SDSU to within 7-5 as he was awarded a sack on an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety.

SDSU grabbed its first lead of the game midway through the second quarter as freshman quarterback Keaton Heide connected with Adam Anderson in the back right corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.

The Jackrabbits wasted an interception by Logan Backhaus at the Illinois State 33 later in the second quarter, coming up empty when a fake field goal attempt went awry.

Illinois State drew back to within a point at 11-10 on a field goal seconds before halftime, stringing together a nine-play, 66-yard drive that consumed less than two minutes.

SDSU increased its lead to 18-10 on its opening drive of the second half. A 23-yard catch and run on third-and-11 by Jaxon Janke and a 10-yard run by Heide later in the drive set up Pierre Strong, Jr.'s 4-yard touchdown run. Also a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, Strong went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season in Saturday's game but was held in check with only 29 yards on 12 carries.

Mikey Daniel led the Jackrabbits with 40 yards on 10 carries.

Overall, Illinois State held a 302-260 advantage in total offense. Davis completed 11-of-17 passes for 165 yards. Tanner Taula led Redbird receivers with three catches for 47 yards.

For SDSU, Heide finished the day 15-of-25 passing for 171 yards. Cade Johnson caught a career-high 11 passes for 74 yards.

Rozeboom ended the afternoon with a season-high 14 tackles. Backhaus added six stops.

Ty DeForest paced the Redbird defense with nine tackles.

The Jackrabbits close out the home portion of their regular-season schedule by hosting another highly ranked opponent in Northern Iowa. Kickoff for the Nov. 16 matchup is set for 2 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.