Southern Illinois scored 20 unanswered points during the first half of Saturday evening's clash at Saluki Stadium, and then successfully withstood several comeback attempts by No. 10/10 Liberty. The Salukis celebrated a successful home opener with a 34-13 victory.
Southern Illinois, which racked up 482 yards of offense, improves to 1-2 after winning its first-ever gridiron clash with the Flames. The Salukis have now won 13 of their last 14 home openers.
No. 10/10 Liberty falls to 2-2 despite Josh Woodrum's 277 passing yards and B.J. Farrow's career-best 101 receiving yards. The Flames were undone by two costly turnovers, two missed field goals and two failed fourth-down conversions while falling to a MVFC opponent for the second straight year.
Woodrum, who completed 26 of a career-high 47 pass attempts, broke the Liberty career total offense record during the second half. The senior signal caller finished with 277 total yards, giving him 8,876 for his career. The previous program standard of 8,806 yards was held by Liberty Athletics Hall of Famer Robby Justino (1989-92).
Farrow was Woodrum's top target, hauling in eight passes for a career-high 101 yards. Zac Parker caught a career-high seven passes for 55 yards.
Todd Macon paced Liberty's ground attack with 10 carries for 28 yards and a score. The Flames were held to 81 yards on 37 carries for the game.
Defensively, Avery James (15 tackles), Corbin Jackson (nine tackles) and Alpha Jalloh (eight tackles) all set career highs for stops, with Jalloh corralling his second career interception.
SIU quarterback Mark Iannotti, who entered as the FCS national leader in total offense, completed 19-of-24 passes for 208 yards and carried the ball nine times for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Saluki freshman running back Daquan Isom tallied a career-best 123 yards and one of his team's four rushing touchdowns on just 10 carries. Billy Reed pulled in five passes for 87 yards.
On the defensive side, Kenny James headlined SIU's trio of double-digit tacklers with 16 stops.
Liberty held the ball for the first 6:37 of the game, churning out 60 yards on 15 plays before John Lunsford capped the drive with a 39-yard field goal to open the scoring.
The Salukis then scored 20 unanswered points, beginning with a 37-yard field goal by Austin Johnson at 4:56 of the opening quarter.
Liberty fashioned another prolonged drive, moving the ball 73 yards on 16 plays. However, Desmond Rice was stopped short on 4th-and-2 from the Salukis' 10-yard line, keeping the score knotted at 3-3 early in the second quarter.
Southern Illinois' ensuing drive featured a 31-yard pass completion from Iannotti to Darrell James. That set up another Johnson field goal, a 30-yarder which put the home team in front, 6-3, 9:39 before halftime.
The Salukis forced a Woodrum fumble on the first play of Liberty's next possession and recovered it at the Flames' 8-yard line. Four plays later, Aaron Stanton punched it into the end zone from one yard out for the game's first touchdown. That put Southern Illinois on top, 13-3, at 8:15 of the second quarter.
John Lunsford's 57-yard field goal attempt with 4:23 remaining before halftime fell short, keeping the Flames' deficit at 13-3.
Just 2:09 later, Isom found open space around the left end, scampering 49 yards for a Saluki score. The home team's 92-yard drive put them on top, 20-3, 2:14 before the intermission.
A 34-yard completion from Woodrum to Farrow helped Liberty move into field goal range, but Lunsford's 48-yard attempt hooked left at the 1:22 mark.
After Southern Illinois went three-and-out, Lunsford got one more try. This time, he made his 10th career 50-yard field goal, a Saluki Stadium-record 57-yard make. It sailed through the uprights five seconds before halftime, making the score Southern Illinois 20, Liberty 6 at the intermission.
Two long completions to Reed (24 and 40 yards) highlighted SIU's first drive out of halftime, which culminated in a 3-yard TD run by Iannotti. The point after extended the Saluki advantage to 27-6 with 11:21 to play in the third quarter.
Liberty's lone touchdown of the night came on the first play of the fourth quarter and the 17th play of another extended drive, when Macon's one-yard dive pulled the Flames to within 27-13.
Jalloh came up with his first interception of the season, but another Woodrum fumble deep in Southern Illinois territory gave the ball back to the Salukis before the Flames could draw any closer.
Instead, Southern Illinois marched 77 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, a one-yard run by Matt McIntosh with 5:28 to play. The extra point extended the Salukis' lead to the final score of 34-13.
The Flames continue their four-game road swing next Saturday, when Liberty travels to Atlanta, Ga., for its first-ever matchup with Georgia State. The Flames' second game against an FBS opponent this season will kick off at 3:30 p.m. inside the Georgia Dome. The contest will air on ESPN3.