DURHAM, N.H. (AP) Illinois State scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter as the fifth-seeded Redbirds rallied for a 21-18 win over top-seeded New Hampshire in the FCS semifinals on Saturday.
Tre Roberson scored on a 47-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to give Illinois State (13-1) the lead and Jon-Marc Anderson ran in the two-point conversion.
Roberson was 2 for 2 on third-down conversions during the drive and capped it off with the big run. The defense held after that and the Redbirds punched their ticket to the FCS Championship against No. 2 North Dakota State, the three-time defending champion and ISU’s Missouri Valley Conference rival, on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas.
”A great part of our team is how we persevere,” said Illinois St. coach Brock Spack. ”We have a tremendous pursuit to finish the game.”
The Wildcat defense just couldn’t get off the field in the fourth. After going just 2 for 9 on third-down conversions through three quarters the Redbirds were 4 for 5 in the fourth.
”We had a lot of third downs we couldn’t make plays on,” said UNH linebacker Akil Anderson.
Roberson passed for 278 yards and ran for another 95 including the touchdown as Illinois State will head to its first ever championship game.
Marshaun Coprich capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive for the Redbirds with a 2-yard run a minute into the fourth quarter to cut New Hampshire’s lead to 18-13. He finished with 79 yards on 24 carries a week after having 258 in a quarterfinal win at Eastern Washington. It was the first time this season he was held under 100 yards.
Nick Aussieker put Illinois State up 3-0 with a 33-yard field goal at 8:20 of the first quarter.
New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich countered that with a 3-yard run for a 7-3 lead and then directed a nine-play, 96-yard drive, capped by Nico Steriti’s 6-yard run early in the second quarter. Andy Vailas ran for the two-point conversion to make it 15-3.
Illinois State missed a 40-yard field goal midway through the second quarter but Aussieker had a 23-yarder 1:45 before the half to make it 15-6.
Brad Prasky had a 23-yard field goal for New Hampshire (12-2) at 10:45 of the third quarter to make it 18-6.
Things got interesting when Coprich scored early in the fourth.
The defense didn’t allow a banged-up New Hampshire offense, which lost standout wide receiver R.J. Harris early in the fourth to a concussion, to score again while Roberson and the offense got the job done on the other side of the ball.
The big play came midway through the fourth. The offensive line blasted a hole for Roberson and once he got past the line of scrimmage he was off to the races.
”I didn’t really have to do much but run straight,” Roberson said. ”My offensive line and Marshaun cleared out the hole. My job was easy.”
Jon-Marc Anderson ran in the two-point conversion to make it a 21-18 game.
Illinois State finished with 457 yards to 355 for New Hampshire. Goodrich had 214 yards passing, completing 19 of 33, while Steriti had 100 yards on 19 carries.
Lechein Neblett led all receivers with eight catches for 147 yards. Harris, who set a school and conference record for career receptions with 310 during the game, finished with six for 68 yards.
In the week leading up to the game New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell was asked a lot about how his squad would stand up to a physical team like Illinois State. He felt his kids did a good job at that, they just didn’t get the outcome.
”We stayed the course for most of it,” said McDonnell, who has guided his team to 11-straight FCS tournaments. ”They broke one big one but physically we could handle it and we got the job done up front.”