Beard Hold 24-23 Lead at the Half Against Illinois State
NORMAL, Ill. – Missouri State has taken a 24-23 lead over Illinois State into the intermission here in the Bears' Missouri Valley Football Conference opener.
The nationally-televised game has been a shootout with the Bears falling behind 13-0 before three lead changes in the second quarter. The teams have combined for 559 yards in the first half.
Illinois State started out with a bang on the game's opening kickoff, an 89-yard return by Ben Ericksen to the MSU 4. He was caught from behind by Chris Douglas, but one play later, the Redbirds found paydirt with a four-yard run by Ashton Leggett. The extra point was blocked by Mikel Ruder to keep it 6-0 early.
After forcing the Bears to punt after three plays on their initial drive, the Redbirds fired back again. Starting from their own 21, Matt Brown completed a 51-yard pass to Marvon Sanders to the MSU 25. Two plays later, Brown hit Tyron Walker in the corner of the end zone for a 23-yard score to make it 13-0 at the 11:34 mark of the opening quarter after the Steven Fitzer PAT. The four-play, 79-yard drive took just 97 seconds.
The Bears struck back on a 54-yard kick return by freshman Julian Burton on the ensuing kickoff to get the ball into Redbird territory at the 30. On the third play of the drive, Cody Kirby completed a swing pass to Stephen Johnston to the three for a 20-yard gain. Johnston then carried twice from there and took it into the end zone on the second try, from one yard out, to make it 13-7 at the 9:44 mark.
Later in the quarter, Fetzer missed a 39-yard field goal, which set the Bears up at their own 22. On the next play, Kirby was intercepted by Kelvyn Hemphill, and returned to the 18, the first time the Redbirds had intercepted the MSU senior in 91 career pass attempts against them.
The Bears bounced off the canvas with a pick of their own, a redzone interception by Jimmie Strong who returned it to the ISU 45 to end the threat. The Bears would drive to the ISU 16 before settling for a 34-yard field goal by Jordan Chiles to cap a 29-yard scoring drive and make it 13-10.
At the 10:21 mark of the second, Fetzer would convert a career-long 51-yard field goal to make it 16-10, but the Bears took their first lead of the night moments later. On the first play from their own 23, Kirby connected 50 yards to Jermaine Saffold to the ISU 27.
Kirby then carried nine yards to the 18, and then Douglas carried four times for 17 yards to the one. Missouri State then gained its first lead of the game on a one-yard sneak by Kirby. The six-play, 77-yard drive consumed just 2:41 and gave the Bears a 17-13 lead with 7:34 to go in the half.
But the lead was short-lived as Brown drove the Redbirds 68 yards for a go-ahead score with 4:05 on the clock. The 11-play drive consumed just 3:24 and culminated in Leggett's second touchdown of the half, a five-yard carry.
But the Bears retaliated yet again to take the lead into the berak. A 56-yard touchdown run by Kirby, a career-long dash, soon followed and completed a three-play drive that covered 67 yards. The 24-23 lead with 2:57 to go held up through three more possessions and a missed 54-yard field goal attempt by Fetzer.
Kirby finished the first half with a game high 66 rushing yards on three carries – two for touchdowns -- but was just 4-for-10 through the air for 79 yards. Johnston and Douglas both had 47 yards on 10 and 9 carries, respectively in the first half.
ISU was led by Brown who was 20-for-34 for 279 yards, including 8 completions for 107 to Marvon Sanders.