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Illinois State has incentive to keep streak



Published: Thu, October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The contest will also be shown live in Youngstown over WFMJ-TV, Channel 21.

By PETE MOLLICA

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- It has been 74 years since Illinois State last won seven straight games in a season,

Saturday, the Redbirds (6-1, 3-0 Gateway) will try to equal that mark when they play host to Youngstown State (6-2, 3-1) in a key conference matchup at Hancock Stadium. Kickoff is 2:37 p.m. and the game will be televised as the Gateway TV game of the week.

The contest will also be shown live in Youngstown over WFMJ-TV, Channel 21.

Denver Johnson is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Redbirds with a record of 38-36, and he holds a 4-3 advantage over the Penguins as ISU's head coach.

Teams' preview

"We know whenever we go up against Youngstown State that we're in for a physical matchup against a very well-coached opponent," Johnson said.

"Youngstown is a team that's not going to beat themselves, despite what they did last week," he added. "They run the ball exceptionally well and they can throw when they want to."

"We've been playing pretty sound football the last four weeks, but we also can't afford to let up an inch against a team like Youngstown," he added.

It was in 1932 the last time the Redbirds won seven straight.

"Nobody on this team was even around then," Johnson said.

The Redbirds come into the game ranked No. 3 in the I-AA Sports Network poll and No. 2 in the coaches poll, while the Penguins slipped to No. 10 following last week's 31-23 loss to Northern Iowa.

Illinois State is coming off a 27-14 win at Western Illinois and is 3-0 at Hancock Stadium this year.

The Redbirds have a very well-balanced offensive attack, which is averaging more than 400 yards per game.

In the backfield

Key players include junior quarterback Luke Drone (6-2, 210) and senior tailback Pierre Rembert (6-0, 220).

Drone, in his second season as the starter, has come into his own this year. He has completed 107 of 177 passes for 1,591 yards and 13 touchdowns, while throwing just three interceptions. He has a passing efficiency rating of 156.8.

Rembert is the second-best rusher in the Gateway Conference, trailing only YSU's Marcus Mason.

Rembert has carried the ball 203 times for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns. His longest run from scrimmage was 56 yards.

The Redbirds' top receiver is senior Pierre Jackson (6-1, 175) who has pulled in 31 passes for 568 yards and four touchdowns, the longest being 70 yards.

Two other receivers have caught 18 passes each and combined for six more touchdowns. They are junior Jason Horton (6-0, 185) and senior Laurent Robinson (6-2, 195).

The Redbirds' offensive line is huge, but includes just one senior in 6-3, 310-pound guard Janiah Downing.

Best in conference

Defensively, the Redbirds lead the Gateway in scoring defense, allowing just 17.4 points a game. They are also No. 1 in rushing defense, allowing just 108.9 per game. They are second to Northern Iowa in total defense.

Leading the way is senior linebacker Cameron Siskowic (6-2, 225), who had made 83 total tackles, 35 solos and has 4.5 tackles for losses and two sacks along with two pass interceptions and a forced fumble.

Junior linebacker Kye Stewart (6-0, 205) leads the team in tackles behind the line with seven and has two sacks, while sophomore free safety Tom Nelson (6-0, 195) has intercepted four passes. The Redbirds have 12 interceptions on the year.

Sophomore place-kicker Kevin Mazur has booted 9 of 13 field goals, the longest being 37 yards, and is 23-of-24 in extra points.

Sophomore punter Bobby Kelsey is averaging 38.7 on 24 punts this year.




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