CARBONDALE, Ill. — The North Dakota State winning streak is over and the historic run ended in decisive and stunning fashion.
Southern Illinois scored the game's first 17 points and the No. 1-ranked Bison couldn't recover. The Salukis rode that strong start to a 38-14 victory in Missouri Valley Football Conference play at Saluki Stadium before a COVID-restricted crowd of 2,400 fans.
The Bison (2-1, 1-1 MVFC) had their 39-game winning streak snapped, losing for the first time since the 2017 season.
"We didn't show up and play very well," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "There was not any position group that played well."
NDSU's last loss was a 33-21 setback at South Dakota State on Nov. 4, 2017. The three-time defending NCAA Division I FCS national champions weren't initially scheduled to play Southern Illinois this fall season, but the MVFC shuffled the league schedule after Indiana State opted out of the spring season for health and safety concerns.
"This game will be recognized for a long time, maybe the biggest win in that stadium," Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill said of ending NDSU's FCS-record winning streak.
The Salukis (2-1, 1-1) pulled away early in the fourth quarter after quarterback Nic Baker threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Landon Lenoir. That gave Southern Illinois a 24-7 lead with 13 minutes, 41 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Baker completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 194-pound sophomore was making his first career start for Southern Illinois.
“It’s what I hope for, it’s what I’ve dreamed of," Baker said. "I kind of want those moments.”
The Bison suffered their worst defeat since a 37-6 loss at Cal Poly during the 2005 season.
"I don’t really have a lot of words to explain," said Bison safety Michael Tutsie. "It’s really tough. It feels terrible."
Southern Illinois forced a key turnover late in the third quarter to set up that score. Salukis safety Clayton Bush had a strip sack on Bison quarterback Zeb Noland that teammate Jordan Berner recovered near midfield. Bush's big play came with NDSU having a first-and-10 play at the Southern Illinois 42-yard line. The Salukis, who had a 17-7 lead at the time, took over at their own 49 with 1:13 to play in the third quarter.
Salukis cornerback Roderick Campbell intercepted Noland on the next NDSU possession, moving the ball to the Bison 18 with 13:09 to play after a Bison penalty was tacked on to the end of the return. Southern Illinois running back Javon Williams Jr. scored moments later on a 3-yard run to give his team a 31-7 lead with 11:42 to play in the fourth quarter. The Salukis scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes, cashing in on those back-to-back turnovers.
"Turnover margin is the key to winning football games," said Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill. "It’s the No. 1 stat."
Sophomore running back Romeir Elliot added a 20-yard touchdown run that gave the Salukis a 38-7 lead with 3:07 remaining.
"We’re just trying to finish, going against the No. 1 team in the country, trying to end their win streak," Elliott said.
The 6-foot-2, 224-pound Noland scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to cut the Southern Illinois lead to 38-14 with 2:16 remaining. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 159 yards and touchdown with one interception. Southern Illinois limited the Bison to 109 rushing yards on 21 attempts.
In contrast, the Salukis gained 443 yards on 73 plays, rushing for 170 yards on 48 attempts.
"There are not a lot of teams that control the line of scrimmage against North Dakota State," Hill said.
Southern Illinois dominated from the start, gaining 254 yards on 38 plays in the first half, while possessing the ball more than 21 minutes.
The Salukis scored the game's first touchdown with a 93-yard drive that took 12 plays and lasted nearly seven minutes. Elliott capped that march with a 3-yard touchdown run that gave Southern Illinois a 10-0 lead with 7:24 remaining in the second quarter.
The Salukis extended that lead on their next possession. Southern Illinois drove 74 yards on seven plays on its way to the end zone. The big play was a Baker pass to wide receiver Avante Cox for 65 yards. That long pass play came on a third-and-3 and moved the ball to the Bison 2-yard line. Four plays later, Williams scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal. That gave the Salukis a 17-0 lead with 55 seconds to play in the opening half.
"We talk about not flinching, you’ve got to expect to play well," Hill said. “We really controlled the line of scrimmages. ... Really besides two plays, we dominated the football game.”
The Bison showed some spark on their final drive of the opening half. Noland connected with wide receiver Jake Lippe on a 37-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass on the final play of the second quarter. Lippe was able to secure the ball off a tip in the end zone, cutting the Salukis lead to 17-7 heading into halftime.
"The result definitely takes away from that," Lippe said. "It was a sweet play, but all I care about is winning.”
The Bison were limited to 106 yards on 19 plays in the opening 30 minutes. NDSU gained 80 of those yards on its final drive of the second quarter. Noland completed four consecutive passes to end the first half. The Bison had the ball for less than nine minutes in the first two quarters.
Southern Illinois dominated time of possession for the game, controlling the ball for more than 41 minutes.
"We've just got to be better all around," Tutsie said. "We never want to feel this feeling again because this is not how we operate at NDSU."