Saluki Football | Pizano’s 33-yard field goal as time expires lifts Missouri State past SIU

SIU running back Justin Strong (5) hurdles over Northern Iowa defensive back Omar Brown (24) during the third quarter at Saluki Stadium on Saturday in Carbondale.


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The start wasn’t good, and the ending was even worse for SIU’s 10th-ranked football team Saturday at Missouri State.

The Bears began their 30-27 win with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the very first play of the game against the Salukis and capped it with a 33-yard field goal from Jose Pizano as time expired at Plaster Stadium. SIU led 19-7 at the half and by seven with 5:43 to play, but couldn’t hang on for the win. Once 4-1 and in the race for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title, the Salukis fell to 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the league after their second straight loss.

“I’m disappointed in the performance,” SIU coach Nick Hill said. “It starts with me — finding the buttons to push. We just haven’t played a consistent brand of football. If we want to be the team we want to be, we have to come down here and beat this team.”

The Salukis (4-3, 3-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) are scheduled to get a bye this weekend after Illinois State opted out and will close the season against 0-5 Western Illinois April 10.

MSU (4-4, 4-1) got four touchdowns from running back Celdon Manning and knocked off its third straight top-25 opponent to stay in the race for the league title in coach Bobby Petrino’s first season.

“It was a great win,” Petrino said. “I was really worried at halftime. We weren’t playing with the same energy, the same excitement, the same speed as we had been. Our coaches just did a great job at halftime by talking about competing, and playing Bear football like we had the last couple weeks, and we came out in the second half and did that.”

Manning, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound freshman from Texas that entered Saturday’s game with one touchdown all season, caught a 75-yard bomb on the game’s first play and rushed for three scores. His 23-yard run over the left side with 2:42 to play helped the Bears tie the game at 27. He added touchdown runs of two yards and three yards out to become the first MSU player to score four times in a game since Jason Randall in 2017 against Indiana State.

Manning helped the Bears seal the win with two big runs after a pass interference call got them into SIU territory on the final drive. Quarterback Matt Struck tried to find Damoriea Vick on a lob down the right sideline with SIU’s James Ceasar with him. Ceasar appeared to go for the football, which went over both players’ heads, but the official closest to the play threw the flag after Ceasar stopped the receiver and gave the Bears the ball at the Saluki 40. Manning’s 7-yard run on the next play moved it to the 33, and MSU was able to set up Pizano from the 16 three plays later.

SIU left Missouri after a bitter loss. The Salukis had 98 yards in penalties, rushed for 29 yards in the second half and couldn’t even run out the clock when they got the ball back in a tie game with under three minutes to go. Stone Labanowitz found Avante Cox in the left flat on a wide receiver screen for their only points in the second half. 

SIU went up seven after a little razzle dazzle on the two-point conversion. Labanowitz lined up behind the right guard, and the Salukis snapped the ball to a teammate, who turned and tossed the ball to Cox as he ran toward the right end. Cox then pulled up and threw the football to Labanowitz, who was wide open in the end zone after sneaking out of the backfield untouched. The Philly Special-type play gave SIU a 27-20 lead with 5:34 to go, but the Salukis never scored again.

“You want to think that that (drive) can go win the game, but it didn’t,” Hill said.

Labanowitz completed 25 of 34 passes for 270 yards and two scores. Romeir Elliott rushed for 42 yards, Javon Williams Jr. rushed for 36 yards before leaving the game early in the third quarter with an injury, and Cox had 34 yards rushing and 61 yards receiving. Running back Justin Strong caught a career-high nine passes for 96 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Punter Jack Colquhoun had a 68-yard kick and averaged 46.2 yards on eight attempts. Kicker Nico Gualdoni hit two extra-point attempts, but the Salukis botched a short field goal attempt with a bad snap early in the fourth quarter that came back to haunt them. Colquhoun, the holder, had to pop up after a low snap and tried to make a play. His pass was intercepted.  

Down 7-0 to start, SIU scored 19 straight points, beginning with its defense. 

Linebacker Bryce Notree wrapped up Tobias Little a yard deep in the end zone right before the end of the first quarter for the team’s first safety this season, and Williams connected with Branson Combs from 29 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown. The Salukis made it 16-7 after Labanowitz hit Strong near the middle of the field, and the former Belleville Althoff High School star did the rest. Strong broke a tackle right after making the reception and made two guys miss on the way to the left pylon of the end zone and his third receiving touchdown of the season.

Gualdoni added a 23-yard field goal as time expired for the 12-point lead. 

MSU closes the season at No. 5/6 North Dakota (4-1) and at home against Youngstown State (1-4).