by Rick Kindhart
Peyton Huslig matched career-highs with 28 completions and four passing touchdowns, while Kendall Stewart produced two go-ahead scores to help lead Missouri State (1-3, 1-0 MVFC) to a 37-31 triple overtime win over Western Illinois here Saturday in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both squads.
Stewart’s 22-yard jet sweep in the third overtime saw the senior tiptoe down the left sideline and into the endzone for what proved to be the game-winning score. Missouri State’s ensuing two-point try failed, but the Bears defense held strong.
Needing a touchdown to tie, the Leathernecks (0-5, 0-1 MVFC) committed two penalties on their decisive drive in the third OT with MSU standout Matt McClellan coming up with two big sacks, including one on the final play of the game to end WIU’s comeback hopes.
The Bears finished with a season-high 429 yards of total offense with 26 first downs and more than 33 minutes in possession, not counting the overtimes.
Missouri State’s defense was also on point in the conference debut, allowing the Leathernecks just 13 first downs and four third-down conversions.
Western accounted for two of its third-down successes – one of its two fourth-down conversions – on its final possession of regulation. Down 21-14, the Leathernecks changed quarterbacks and put the game on the shoulders of junior Connor Sampson. Sampson engineered a 13-play, 74-yard scoring drive that took more than six minutes to knot the score at 21 and force overtime.
The Leathernecks’ final drive of regulation was aided by an MSU personal foul in the red zone and later by a fourth-and-goal surge from the one by Max Norris.
In overtime, the Bears got the ball first and immediately capitalized with Huslig connecting with Lorenzo Thomas for a 25-yard TD strike on the first play. Parker Lacina’s extra point gave Missouri State a 28-21 lead.
Huslig, who eclipsed 5,000 career passing yards in the win, posted his third-highest passing total of his career and just his third 300-yard passing game.
On Western’s first overtime possession, it took the Leathernecks nine plays and a fourth-and-12 conversion, but the home side ultimately tied it up with another one-yard rush by Norris.
Both teams settled for field goals in the second OT. WIU’s Nathan Erickson kicked a 45-yarder after MSU’s defense pushed the home squad back to the 28 on three previous plays, then Lacina converted a short 20-yarder to tie the game, 31-31.
Stewart’s winning touchdown in the third overtime came on the second play of the drive – just after a three-yard gain by Donovan Daniels – and got the MSU defense riled up for its final stand of the night.
Daniels finished with a team-high 33 yards on 14 carries, while Thomas collected seven Huslig passes for 92 yards and a pair of scores – the first multiple touchdown game of his career.
McNeece Egbim ignited a solid effort by Missouri State’s defense, racking up 15 tackles, 13 solos and a pair of pass break-ups in the Bears’ first overtime victory since 2008.
After falling behind 14-0 early in the game, Missouri State tied it late in the third quarter, marching 93 yards on 13 plays to make it a 14-14 contest. Stewart and Armand Baker came up with big third-down receptions on the series before Huslig connected with Stewart again on a key third-and-one play from the WIU 8-yard line for the senior’s first career touchdown reception.
Coach Dave Steckel’s squad took its first lead of the night midway through the fourth on a 41-yard TD strike from Huslig to Tyler Currie to cap a 67-yard scoring drive that took the Bears just one minute, 49 seconds and four plays to complete. Myron Mason was big on the scoring sequence, ripping off 13 rushing yards to open up the Bears’ passing opportunities, including a key second-down conversion.
The first half was dominated by the two defenses trying to out-flex each other over the first 30 minutes. The Leathernecks flexed first midway through the opening quarter when they sacked Huslig at the MSU 10, knocked the ball loose, and Kyle Williams picked up the fumble for a Western Illinois touchdown and the game’s first score.
After holding the Leathernecks to just one first down in the opening quarter, the MSU defense gave up its first big play of the afternoon early in the second when Kevin Johnson unleashed a long spiral down the right hash that Tony Tate ran down in the end zone to give WIU a 14-0 advantage with 12:27 remaining in the second.
Late in the second, the Bears manufactured one of their best scoring drives of the season as Huslig marched the Bears 72 yards on seven plays before hitting Lorenzo Thomas from 18 yards out to make it a 14-7 contest. The drive was extended by a pass interference penalty on Western Illinois, followed by a 20-yard rush by DJ Frost that helped set up Thomas’ second touchdown of the season.
With just 76 seconds to work with before halftime, Western got a 43-yard reception by Norris to the MSU nine before Tyler Lovelace picked up his second interception of the year, stepping in front of his WIU receiver at the goal line to prevent any further damage by the home side in the opening half and keeping it a 14-7 game at the time.
The Bears forced WIU into six punts on eight first-half possessions and held the Leathernecks to six just first downs in that span.