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Illinois State senior wide receiver Spencer Schnell eyes the ball on a punt return during the Redbirds' 33-16 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory over Western Illinois on Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

NORMAL — Illinois State wide receiver Spencer Schnell isn’t just the Redbirds’ leading pass catcher, he also returns punts.

Schnell was forced to take a few plays off from his receiver duties in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s win over Western Illinois after taking a crunching hit as he tried to bring back a punt.

“I kind of barked at him when he came off. It’s one thing being brave and another thing being stupid,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “He’s at midfield. Come on, now. Fair catch the ball. We need you on this drive. Let’s pick and choose our battles.”

Schnell said he did not take a blow to the head but had the wind knocked out of him. The senior agreed with his coach that a fair catch in that situation would have been advisable.

“He hit me right in the sternum. I had to regain my wind while down on the ground,” said Schnell, who leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference in receptions per game at 6.0. “I’ve got to be a little smarter next week with the fair catches.”

Schnell was on the sideline for the first five plays of ISU’s next possession and could be seen near receivers coach Brian Anderson lobbying to get back in the game.

“I definitely tried to get back in as soon as I caught my wind,” he said. “I don’t want to ever miss a play.”

Schnell drew a pass interference call on his first play back and later caught a 27-yard pass from Brady Davis to convert a fourth-and-14.

Rients rotating in: Minonk native Jared Rients is getting occasional playing time in relief of senior right guard Chad Kanugh.

“Jared is a good athlete and a good player. We’re trying to get him some game experience,” said Spack. “It helps our depth there and gives Chad a break. He has a lot of tread on his tires, and we’re trying to get him to the finish of the race."

Engram out for season: Junior college transfer linebacker Paul Engram will miss the entire season because of a torn tendon in his pinkie finger.

The affliction is called “jersey finger” as in a finger caught in a jersey is bent back to the point of injury. Engram is a junior who has previously taken a redshirt season.

“It’s one of those injuries you can’t play with,” Spack said. “He might get a year back, a sixth year, if he wants.”

Podkulski returning soon: Defensive tackle Steven Podkulski, who has missed the first five games with a broken foot, has returned to practice on a limited basis.

Podkulski could see action Saturday against Southern Illinois but is more likely to see significant action in the Oct. 20 game at North Dakota State.

Two receivers depart: Redbird receivers Kentre Patterson and Anthony Hadden have quit the team. An All-American hurdler, Patterson will concentrate on track.

According to Spack, true freshman Eric Rogers may be called into action to supplement ISU’s depth at receiver.

Around the Valley: Southern Illinois junior safety Jeremy Chinn, a second team all-conference pick last season, will miss the first half of Saturday’s game against the Redbirds because he was ejected for targeting last week against Youngstown State.

“It’s just a tough rule,” SIU coach Nick Hill said. “Jeremy does everything that he possibly could be taught to do. In my opinion, it’s a bad rule to punish a kid to have to sit out a half. They reviewed it. They upheld the targeting call. We have to move on from it.”

North Dakota State is No. 1 and South Dakota State No. 2 in this week’s STATS FCS national rankings.

That is the fourth time the MVFC has had the two top-ranked teams in the nation. The last occasion was the final poll of the 2014 season when NDSU was first and ISU was second.

Northern Iowa remains perfect on red zone opportunities through five games.

The Panthers have ventured inside the 20-yard line 18 times this season and  emerged with six rushing touchdowns, six passing TDs and six field goals.

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Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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