MACOMB, Ill. —
In the wake of Indiana State’s 23-7 victory over Western Illinois Saturday night, it was hard for the Sycamores to decide which milestone they wanted to trumpet the most.
“It’s the first time in 44 years we’ve had three winning seasons in a row. Make that a big deal. Forty-four years. No one’s done it since Jerry Huntsman [ISU coach from 1966-72],” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
“We haven’t won here at Western Illinois since 1996. That’s a big thing,” ISU linebacker Aaron Archie said.
While those achievements will be added to and stricken from ISU’s history books, it’s what the Sycamores did for their present-day status that is the most important aspect of the victory: the Sycamores are in first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Sycamores currently share the top spot with Southern Illinois at 4-1 in the MVFC. North Dakota State and South Dakota State are a half-game behind at 3-1. The four-way tie in the loss column will straighten itself out when the Sycamores and Salukis have their bye weeks. ISU has its bye week on Nov. 10.
The theme that’s developed for ISU throughout its MVFC campaign is its calm in the face of both adversity and success.
ISU lost its MVFC opener at home to South Dakota State, but has not let the defeat at the hands of the Jackrabbits morph into a downward spiral of further losses.
Moreover, ISU did not suffer a letdown against WIU after its big win over then-No. 1 North Dakota State on Oct. 13. Miles is happy with the buy-in the Sycamores have had in not getting too up or too down.
“I think it's part of their maturity. I have guys with me who have been here four or five years. They’ve learned from the past and that’s a major thing when it comes to being successful. They understand what we have to do and where we want to go,” Miles said.
It’s a balance some of ISU’s competitors for the MVFC championship haven’t struck. Illinois State lost at home to Missouri State on Saturday, one week after beating Youngstown State and two weeks after a loss to Southern Illinois.
Youngstown State, ranked as high as third in the FCS polls three weeks ago, has dropped three in a row, including a home loss to SIU on Saturday.
“We have a chip on our shoulder. We have a lot to prove to everyone,” ISU running back Shakir Bell said. “We’ve been 2-6 in the last four games of the last two seasons. Our motto is to finish. We’ll bask in this game, but it’s back to work on Monday.”
• Riley update — ISU wide receiver Tanner Riley left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. Miles said Sunday that Riley suffered a shoulder sprain and is day-to-day.
If Riley misses any time, it thins out an already injury-plagued wide receiver group. Donald Spencer is out for six-to-eight weeks with a broken foot. Riley started in his place at Western Illinois. Chris O’Leary would be next up on the depth chart.
ISU had 250 yards of total offense against the Leathernecks, its third-lowest tally of the season, including just 99 passing yards.
“We’re getting bogged down with some injuries, but we’re still able to run the ball and do play-action. We have to get ourselves out of 3rd-and-longs. That’s killing us,” Miles said.
• Offensive line shuffled — Change also came to ISU’s offensive line on Saturday. Junior college transfer Olle Norberg got his first start at center as Evan Borchers sat out with a concussion. Borchers had not practiced in the run-up to the WIU game, but made the trip to Macomb and was thought to have a chance to start going into Saturday. He is expected to return when ISU plays host to South Dakota on Saturday.
Justin Wood also started at left guard in place of Nick Rice.
Norberg, a native of Sweden who played at City College of San Francisco last year, is ISU’s third-string center. Borchers has started this season in place of all-MVFC selection FN Lutz, who is sitting out the season with a knee injury. ISU’s offensive line has motored on despite personnel changes.
ISU has only started the same five on the offensive line three times this season.
“If somebody goes down, we love them, we’ll miss them, we’ll need them back, but that next man in has to step up and play. It’s kind of fulfilling to know that someone gets hurt or falls off in performance and we have no dropoff. Olle and Justin did a great job,” Bell said.