MACOMB, Ill. (NEWS3) — It had been 364 days since the Western Illinois football team won a game before Saturday’s matchup against the University of South Dakota.
The Leathernecks needed almost every second of the 60-minute game to get the 38-34 win.
With 34 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the ball on the South Dakota 9-yard line, WIU junior running back Clint Ratkovich. Ratkovich found the end zone for his second touchdown of the day to give the Leathernecks (1-8, 1-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) the lead.
South Dakota drove down to the Western Illinois 31-yard line. With 16 seconds remaining, USD senior quarterback Austin Simmons rolled out to his right and heaved the ball to the goal line, where it was intercepted by Leatherneck senior defensive back Eric Carrera to seal WIU’s the first victory of the season.
The lead changed five times in the final quarter after the Leathernecks and the Coyotes traded touchdown drives on each possession.
Facing fourth-and-5 from their own 49-yard line with 4:43 remaining and trailing 27-24, WIU head coach Jared Elliott opted to go for it. Sampson found George Wahee over the middle, wide receiver evaded the South Dakota defense and took it all the way for the longest score of the game.
WIU quarterback Connor Sampson finished the game with 368 yards and three touchdowns through the air, going 31-for-50 with no interceptions.
Sampson not only received his first career win as a WIU quarterback, but was also named MVFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The Coyotes (3-6, 2-3 MVFC) would not give up without a fight. Senior quarterback Austin Simmons led USD down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped off with a three yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Caleb Vander Esch for a 3-yard touchdown throw with 1:24 to put the Coyotes ahead 34-31.
Simmons went 25-for-45 with 274 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
The Leathernecks will travel to Fargo, North Dakota on Saturday to take on the No. 1 team in the FCS, the North Dakota State Bison. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.