VERMILLION, S.D. (USD) — Southern Illinois running back Javon Williams Jr. ran for 107 yards and four touchdowns while the Saluki defense forced five turnovers in rolling past South Dakota 48-28 Saturday inside the DakotaDome.
It was the first win for the Salukis in Vermillion in three tries as they improved to 4-4 overall and 2-2 inside the Missouri Valley Football Conference. South Dakota fell to 1-3 at home, 3-5 overall and 1-3 inside the Valley.
Williams Jr., a wildcat back for SIU, scored all four touchdowns in the first half and was part of a ground game that compiled 334 yards against the Coyotes. D.J. Davis carried much of the load in the second half and turned in a game-high 125 yards on 17 carries. Southern Illinois totaled 525 yards of offense in all.
The tone was set from the beginning. Southern Illinois forced a quick 3-and-out, and on the Salukis’ second play from scrimmage, wide out Avante Cox took an end around, bounced off a Coyote defender, and streaked 65 yards to the 10. Two plays later, Williams Jr. was in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Cox ran four times for 80 yards including a 5-yard touchdown that completed SIU’s scoring in the fourth quarter. He also caught eight passes for a game-high 113 yards and two scores. He caught an 11-yard touchdown just before halftime after South Dakota ran offsides on a field goal attempt with 13 seconds on the clock. He split the defense for a 33-yard score on Southern Illinois’s second possession of the second half that pushed the lead to 41-14.
South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons completed 22 of 34 passes for 226 yards and accounted for all three of the Coyotes’ offensive touchdowns. But he was intercepted three times – twice by all-Valley safety Jeremy Chinn – and lost two fumbles. SIU, which ranked seventh nationally in sacks entering the weekend, had three Saturday and two led to turnovers.
Caleb Vander Esch led USD in receiving for the sixth game in a row. He had a career-high nine catches for 85 yards and a score. Kai Henry turned in his fourth career 100-yard rushing performance. He ran 18 times for a season-high 116 yards.
Southern Illinois cashed in all three USD turnovers for touchdowns and took a 34-7 lead into the break. The Salukis had 3rd-and-3 from their own 39 on the opening possession of the second half when South Dakota defensive end Jake Richardson stripped Saluki quarterback Karé Lyles of the football. It hopped right into the hands of Coyote safety Mike Johnson who ran 31 yards for a touchdown that cut the lead to 34-14.
It was the second career touchdown for Johnson who returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown during a 42-0 win against Southern Illinois inside the DakotaDome two years ago. Johnson finished with six tackles and had one of six pass breakups turned in by the Coyotes’ defense.
South Dakota tight end Brett Samson corralled a 2-yard touchdown catch from Simmons with 4:43 left in the third quarter that made it 41-21. It was the first score of the season for the junior who has six touchdown receptions as a Coyote. He totaled two catches for 26 yards.
USD got the ball back later in the quarter, but was stopped on a 3rd-and-1 run on the final play of the frame and punted away to begin the fourth. Cox’s touchdown run with 10:26 to go, which followed Luke Giegling’s sack of Simmons that gave the ball back to the Salukis on USD’s 38, put the game out of reach for good.
South Dakota returns to action next Saturday in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Western Illinois in Macomb. The Leathernecks dropped a 59-14 decision at Youngstown State Saturday to fall to 0-8 overall.