SIU defeats SEMO in the annual War for the Wheel
Salukis score a touchdown in the closing seconds for a 26-25 victory
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Longtime rivals Southeast Missouri State University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale kicked off their 91st meeting Saturday night.
The game lived up to the first part of its nickname: War for the Wheel.
SEMO dominated the first half. The Redhawks defense held the Salukis to 96 yards of total offense along with forcing two interceptions and a safety. A Paxton DeLaurent to Mitchell Sellers 19-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter gave SEMO a 15-0 lead heading into halftime.
Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill said afterwards that during the break he called out quarterback Nic Baker and the offense in front of the entire team to step up in the final 30 minutes.
They came inches away from going the opposite direction.
SIU received the second half kickoff. On the third play of the drive, Baker threw a short pass to his right that fell to the turf, but was called a backwards pass that SEMO picked up and returned to the end zone. However, after review, the call was overturned as a forward pass wiping a Redhawks defensive touchdown off the board that would have made the score 22-0.
Instead, the Salukis kept the ball and manufactured a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive to get on the board. Less than three minutes later after the Saluki defense forced a three-and-out, the offense struck again. A 68-yard lightning bolt from Nic Baker to Vinson Davis III making it a two-point game, 15-13.
The War was on.
SEMO answered right back with a 70-yard scoring drive of their own capped off by a Geno Hess 9-yard touchdown run. Then a pair of fumbles by Southern Illinois followed by a SEMO field goal to start the fourth quarter extended the Redhawks’ advantage to 25-13.
With 7:40 remaining in the game Baker connected with Izaiah Hartrup for a 15-yard score pulling SIU within a single possession, 25-20.
Then SEMO came a single play away from clinching a victory.
Facing a 3rd & 4 with less than two minutes remaining and only one timeout left for Southern Illinois, a first down for the Redhawks would have let them run out the clock.
However, on a Geno Hess run to the right side, SIU safety Desman Hearns slipped past a wall of blockers and ripped the ball out. The Salukis recovered the fumble with 1:46 remaining.
On 4th & 1 from the 9-yard line, Baker found Hartrup again in the back of the end zone to take their first lead of the game, 26-25, with 11 seconds to go.
During the 2022 War for the Wheel, it was SEMO scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 11 seconds remaining that was the eventual game-winner.
Saturday night Southern Illinois got their revenge.
On the final play of the game SEMO’s Hail Mary attempt was knocked down by the Salukis, completing the comeback victory.
After a year spent in Cape Girardeau, the Wheel is heading back to Carbondale.
War for the Wheel History
It was the 40th SEMO-SIU rivalry game played in Cape Girardeau between the two teams.
SEMO holds a 43-39-8 lead in the all-time series, which dates back to 1909. It is the longest series for both schools.
It was first named War for the Wheel in 2018 and references the ship’s wheel trophy, which goes to the winner. During the early years of the series, Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois used to cross the Mississippi River by boat to play.
The wheel was in Cape Girardeau after the Redhawks took down the Salukis 34-31 in Carbondale in 2022.
According to SIU, recent War for the Wheel history includes:
- Sept. 15, 2018 (SIU home game) - SEMO won, 48-44
- Sept. 29, 2019 - SEMO won, 44-26
- Oct. 30, 2020 (SIU home game) - SIU won, 20-17
- Sept. 2, 2021 - SIU won, 47-21
- Sept. 10, 2022 (SIU home game) - SEMO won, 34-31
- Sept. 16, 2023 - SIU won, 26-25
In addition, Southern Illinois visits Southeast Missouri during its Family Weekend on Saturday. SEMO is 7-1 on Family Weekend with Tom Matukewicz as its head coach. The Redhawks have won four-straight Family Weekend games.
Copyright 2023 KFVS. All rights reserved.