TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Just as the Illinois State football team remedied one problem, other debilitating issues cropped up Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Plagued by slow starts while losing the previous three games, ISU jumped out to an early 10-point lead only to see Indiana State roar back for a 28-23 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory.
ISU slipped to 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the Valley. With FCS playoff hopes dashed, the Redbirds will close their season next Saturday in a noon home game against Youngstown State.
"It's frustrating. The team is very, very frustrated," Redbirds coach Brock Spack said. "They should be a 9-2 team in my opinion. But they shoot themselves in the foot."
Indiana State (6-4, 4-3) won its fourth straight outing. The Sycamores were outgained in total offense, 488-283.
The No. 23-ranked Redbirds had been outscored 67-10 before halftime the past three games before JT Bohlken's 27-yard field goal opened the scoring.
After a diving Luther Kirk interception, Markel Smith rushed 26 yards for a touchdown at the 5:12 mark of the first quarter.
"We came out fast. We wanted to come out fast," said Kirk. "We just didn't do what we needed to do to finish fast."
Two Redbird turnovers transformed the game.
First, Smith's fumble was recovered by Indiana State's Matt Thompson at the ISU 38-yard line. Two plays later, Titus McCoy found the end zone from 4 yards out.
ISU was on the move into Indiana State territory when a Brady Davis pass was intercepted and returned 29 yards by safety Denzel Bonner. Davis compounded the miscue with a facemask penalty while trying to bring Bonner down.
Again the Sycamores converted with a pinpoint 5-yard scoring pass from Ryan Boyle to a tightly covered Dante Jones for a 14-10 margin.
"It's real simple," Spack said. "You turn it over twice and give up 14 points and add penalties everywhere."
After a short Bohlken punt, Indiana State drove 52 yards on nine plays to assume a 21-10 advantage on a 2-yard McCoy touchdown plunge with 1:25 left in the half.
The Redbirds executed an effective two-minute offense only to watch Bohlken miss a 30-yard field goal attempt wide right on the opening half's final snap.
ISU pulled within 21-17 on a 2-yard Davis to Spencer Schnell touchdown pass. The Redbirds got the ball back quickly, but James Robinson was stopped short on fourth-and-2 at the Sycamores' 33. ISU asked for a review of the spot but the marking was upheld.
"I thought he had it," Davis said. "I thought the spots were bad all day."
Indiana State extended its lead to 28-17 on a 25-yard touchdown toss from Boyle to Dakota Caton with 12:18 remaining.
Spack acknowledged Indiana State's earlier fourth down stop influenced his decision to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Redbird 47-yard line with less than 11 minutes remaining.
"It goes in your mind when you have another fourth down and short yardage," said the ISU coach. "I punted it because if we don't get it there the game is over."
Davis and Schnell hooked up on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds remaining. The two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
The Sycamores recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the final few ticks of the clock.
"We got it going at the end," said Davis, who finished 25 of 41 for 294 yards "But you've got to play a complete game if you're going to win in this conference."
Schnell caught 11 passes for 155 yards and Andrew Edgar eight for 104. Smith rushed for 83 yards and Robinson 73 to surpass the 1,000-yard milestone for the season.
McCoy paced the Indiana State offense with 132 yards rushing on 26 carries.
ISU is 0-4 on the road since a Sept. 22 win at FBS program Colorado State.