NORMAL — In the span of a few seconds, Illinois State defensive end Jason Harris referred to South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler as a “big, strong, tough dude” and a “great quarterback.”
The Redbirds may have surrendered 440 yards passing to the Coyotes’ Walter Payton Award candidate, but Streveler required 63 passes to get there.
And, more importantly, ISU kept high-scoring and No. 4-ranked South Dakota out of the end zone enough to capture a 37-21 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory before an appreciative Hancock Stadium homecoming crowd of 12,113.
“With a great quarterback like Streveler, you’ve got to fly to the ball because he is eventually going to make somebody miss,” said Harris, who was credited with seven tackles. “You have to prevent his scramble. That was our biggest thing. We had to keep him in the box and not let him run all over the field.”
A Redbird defense that had been stout over the season’s first four games redeemed itself from surrendering 79 points in losses to Northern Arizona and Southern Illinois.
“When you look back at the last two weeks, we kind of got our butts kicked defensively,” Harris said. “We lacked a lot of communication so that was the big thing we focused on.”
ISU held up reasonably well to a barrage of 88 South Dakota plays. The Coyotes spent much of the game in a hurry up, no huddle offense.
“The defense played hard the whole game,” said Redbird coach Brock Spack. “It’s tough. They had a lot of snaps. But we had relentless pursuit.”
Interceptions by safety Alec Kocour and cornerback Davontae Harris were the first two thrown by Streveler all season. Harris compiled a team-high 11 tackles and safety Mitchell Brees had eight. Dalton Keene recorded two sacks and seven total tackles.
Valley honors: Redbirds Spencer Schnell and Sean Slattery received Player of the Week honors from the MVFC on Sunday.
Schnell earned the offensive award with seven catches for a career-high 191 yards and two touchdowns against South Dakota. Slattery was the special teams winner after drilling field goals of 47, 33 and 45 yards. He has connected on 13-of-15 field goal tries this season.
Kolbe rebounds: After tossing five interceptions in the two losses, ISU quarterback Jake Kolbe completed 12 of 19 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. The junior was intercepted once on a tipped ball.
“You’ve got to prove yourself every week, every day in practice and in the games,” Kolbe said. “It’s great for our offensive confidence and everybody’s confidence we were able to play well today.”
Kolbe felt the Redbirds struck a positive tone in practice this week.
“Preparation is the biggest thing,” said Kolbe. “We were focused on getting up to the line of scrimmage and getting going. No walking out of the huddle. We were able to play fast right away and sustain that the whole game.”
Loose ball: ISU tailback James Robinson, who rushed for a career-high 193 yards, said his third-quarter fumble recovered by South Dakota was a miscommunication with Malachi Broadnax, who briefly replaced Kolbe at quarterback.
“I felt like he tried to pull it (for a keeper),” Robinson said. “We need to work on that in practice and fix that.”
Gibbs held out: Senior wide receiver Christian Gibbs was in uniform and went through pregame warmups but did not play for the second straight game because of a toe injury.
“He’s not 100 percent,” Spack said. “We didn’t want to run the risk of losing him for the whole season if he hurts something else. We decided that was the best course of action.”
Big guns: For homecoming, ISU brought out a pair of prominent former Redbird star athletes.
Former NFL player Estus Hood, among three players to have his number retired by ISU football, was the honorary Redbird captain for the pregame coin toss.
At a first half timeout, former ISU baseball player Paul DeJong was introduced to a rousing ovation. DeJong batted .285 with 25 home runs as a rookie shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals this season.
Henderson suspended: Redshirt freshman tailback Artiss Henderson did not dress for Saturday’s game because of a one-game disciplinary suspension, according to Spack.