SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Frustrated but fortunate, Illinois State retreated to the locker room tied at halftime with upset-minded Missouri State.
The 12th-ranked Redbirds who next stepped foot on the Plaster Stadium turf looked nothing like the team that had departed and bore a striking resemblance to the group that overwhelmed ISU's initial two foes.
Seizing control of the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener with an iron hand, the arm of Jake Kolbe and the punishing rushes of James Robinson and Markel Smith, the Redbirds matched a school-record with 28 third-quarter points en route to a 34-9 victory Saturday.
"Same calls, different results," ISU coack Brock Spack said of the startling turnaround. "It (third quarter) was more about attitude and toughness and execution and discipline. They slapped themselves into shape, set their jaw, buckled their chin strap and fixed it."
ISU (3-0, 1-0 in the MVFC) piled up 217 yards of third-quarter offense to a net of zero for the Bears.
Kolbe found slot receiver Spencer Schnell with a 19-yard pass to open the second half. On fourth-and-4 from the 35, Kolbe hit Schell over the middle for 29 yards. Smith took the next snap around right end for a 6-yard touchdown.
"We came out the second half and definitely pushed the tempo," said Schnell, who matched a career high with nine receptions and totaled 135 yards in his first 100-yard receiving performance. "We connected really well in the middle of the field and were able to open things up."
With the ISU defense fueling the resurgence by holding Missouri State (1-3, 0-1) without a first down on the ensuing possession, Robinson converted a third-and-3 with a 16-yard rush. Robinson found the end zone from 8 yards out two plays later for a 20-6 margin.
The revitalized Redbird defenders pushed the Bears back 10 yards on the home team's next "drive." After a punt, Smith then rumbled for 22 and then 11 yards on two consecutive carries to the Missouri State 25.
Three plays later, Kolbe rolled right, found no receivers open and sprinted to the corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
"We missed some stuff early on, but we kept fighting, kept hammering away and eventually we made some plays," Kolbe said. "We had to come out and get after it and finish drives."
The Redbirds squeezed one last touchdown into the third quarter when Kolbe hooked up with Anthony Fowler down the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown with seven seconds showing.
"They went down and scored once and next thing you know they scored four straight drives and we had four straight three and outs," Missouri State coach Dave Steckel said. "That's not a good remedy for anything. They imposed their will in the third quarter, and we couldn't stop them."
The Redbird defense totaled nine tackles for loss yardage. Sacks were credited to Tuvone Clark, Adam Conley, James Graham and Ty DeForest. Linebacker Bryce Holm paced all tacklers with nine.
"We knew what we were capable of and knew we were not living up to our standards," Conley said of the first half. "You just keep trying to give the offense the ball back. We give the ball back enough times, we know they can wear down defenses and make things happen."
Kolbe completed 24 of 32 passes for a career-high 312 yards.
"We just tried to take what the defense gives us," Kolbe said. "The good thing about our group is it could be anyone any week. It happened to be Spence today, and the other receivers did a good job helping him get open."
The Bears began with a new wrinkle in their option offense and stung the Redbirds outside early.
Missouri State struck for a 53-yard Deion Holliman touchdown run on an option pitch to the left on the first drive. Matt McCown blocked the extra point.
"They showed some things they hadn't done before, and that got us a little unsound," said Spack. "We made some mistakes with our option responsibilities. We made the adjustments and were much better even later in the first half."
The Redbirds, who lost a fumble and threw an interception in the opening half, scored on field goals of 48 and 28 yards by Sean Slattery for a 6-6 tie.
Missouri State wasted first-half scoring opportunities. Conley blocked a 26-yard Zach Drake field goal try early in the second quarter. Drake was wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half.
The total yardage battle was deadlocked at 236-236 at halftime.