NORMAL, Ill. – Tobias Little racked up a career-high 90 rushing yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns to lead No. 16 Missouri State to a 41-20 road win over Illinois State here Saturday.
The Bears (3-1, 2-0 MVFC) amassed 513 total yards and pitched a shutout in the second half, holding the Redbirds to just 100 total yards and no points in the final 30 minutes.
Missouri State quarterback Jason Shelley also had a career day, passing for 319 yards and a pair of scores on 19-of-27 attempts.
“It was really exciting,” said Bears head coach Bobby Petrino who captured his 75th career conference victory. “Obviously, the first half was really hard fought. I was proud of our offense and our ability to run the ball, throw it and make plays, and convert third downs.”
The win marked MSU’s first win at Hancock Stadium since 2012 and the Bears’ first 2-0 start in league play since 1997.
After leading by a narrow 21-20 margin at the half, the Bears gained separation midway through the third. A blocked punt by Von Young set the visitors up at the Redbirds 40. Five plays later, Little carried it into the endzone from five yards out to make it a 27-20 game. The extra point missed, but Little’s 35 yards on four carries on the drive raised the bar on both sides of the ball.
Moments later, Montrae Braswell snagged a Jackson Waring pass on third-and-five and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. It marked Braswell’s sixth interception in 11 games as a Bear and made it a 34-20 contest.
Missouri State added another score late in the fourth to put things out of reach. After forcing the Redbirds into their fifth punt of the afternoon, Shelley and the Bears went to work, covering 94 yards on just six plays for the club’s longest scoring drive of the season to make it 41-20. A 69-yard touchdown pass from Shelley to Kevon Latulas on third-and-five gave Shelley a career high in passing yards and put the win on ice.
Eight different MSU receivers accounted for Shelley’s 19 completions, including 5 by Jordan Murray for a career-high 85 yards.
Ferrin Manuleleua led the Bears defensively with 11 total stops, while Tylar Wiltz racked up 9 tackles.
The Bears jumped on the Redbirds from the opening gun, driving 75 yards on the first drive of the contest to take a 7-0 lead. Shelley converted two third downs on the march, the first on an 18-yard strike to Tyrone Scott, then later on a 10-yard completion to Isaac Smith. A 20-yard pass to Smith then took the Bears to the Illinois State 22 on the next play before Shelley hit Murray across the middle for a 22-yard TD strike – the 10th of Murray’s career – to give Missouri State a 7-0 lead.
The Redbirds recovered with back-to-back touchdown drives on Illinois State’s next two possessions that gave the home side a 13-7 lead. The first ISU score came on a 7-yard TD pass from Jackson Waring to Mitchell Lewis to cap an 81-yard drive, and the second came on a 23-yard strike to Bryson Dening to top an 82-yard excursion.
Waring, was 5-for-5 for 143 yards on ISU’s first two drives of the game and finished the contest 19-of-30 for a career-high 318 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
The lead would change hands three more times before the Bears ultimately took a 21-20 lead into the intermission.
Little capped a pair of key MSU second quarter scoring drives, both with two-yard touchdown runs. He gave the Bears a 14-13 lead with 8:57 left in the opening half after he ripped off a key 17-yard gain on the series. It took ISU just one play to retake the lead as Waring connected with Jabari Khepera for a 75-yard TD strike on the Redbirds next play.
Missouri State would go ahead for good with a 10-play scoring drive that chewed up more than five minutes of clock. A key third-down pass to Murray for 14 yards carried the Bears to the ISU 2 before Little punched it in from there on the next play.
Titus Wall would stop the ensuing Redbird drive with an interception at the MSU 3-yard line with just 28 seconds left in the second period. Shelley who threw for 231 yards in the opening half, quickly got the Bears within striking distance after a 32-yard pass to Scott and a 22-yarder to Damoriea Vick got the Bears to the ISU 28. Murray’s 6-yard reception took it to the Redbird 22 which gave Jose Pizano an opportunity to extend the lead, but Pizano’s 39-yard field goal was called wide right to keep it 21-20 at the game’s halfway point.
“Defensively, we were stopping the run and taking care of our gap responsibilities,” said Petrino “They just hit some nice shots against us. You have to take your hat off to the quarterback and the receivers that made those plays.”
Missouri State has now outscored its MVFC opponents, 37-0, in the second half this season. The Bears defense also held Illinois State to just 40 rushing yards on 31 carries for the game.
The Bears will wrap their current two-game road swing next week at Youngstown State (1 p.m.).