A bitter pill to swallow for Salukis

It's not how I envisioned this season would finish. It's not how anyone envisioned the season to finish.

Unfortunately for the SIU football team, its 29-20 loss to the University of New Hampshire in the first round of the FCS Playoffs was a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

It's not as if the Salukis were short of prime opportunities. They forced four turnovers including three interceptions of Wildcat quarterback R.J. Toman. However, SIU was only able to turn one of those turnovers into a touchdown. You could almost see it coming: the failure to make points out of turnovers was going to bite the Dawgs in the behind.

It did.

So did other missed opportunities, including two missed field goals by sophomore kicker Kyle Dougherty, who hit a career-long 52 yarder last week against Illinois State. Even though they weren't chip-shot kicks (both attempts were beyond 40 yards) it was a surprise to see the sure-footed Saluki kicker misfire twice in a row.

Dougherty's third quarter troubles weren't the only special teams let downs for SIU. The team allowed 199 yards in kickoff returns. Again, it came as a surprise to the keen eye of those who followed the team from day one.

Credit New Hampshire for creating lanes for its returners and containing its blocks down the field.

While the Saluki special teams struggled, the Wildcats excelled.

Kicker Tom Bishop banged through all five of his field goal attempts and when John Clements wasn't wrecking havoc and shredding the SIU special teams unit (3 for 143 yards) he picked up a blocked punt and returned it for a 26-yard touchdown.

Again, credit New Hampshire, which played well enough to win, despite only scoring one offensive touchdown.

As for the Salukis, a great run ended tonight at McAndrew Stadium. The season started with enough questions to drive any coach mad.

That's what made this season special. First-year head coach Dale Lennon turned question marks into certanties, making his hiring look like an absolute steal by athletic director Mario Moccia. Lennon took a team that lost a significant portion of its offense, including its quarterback and top tailback, and returned it to its rightful spot at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings.

While the goal always is to win a national title, it says a lot about Lennon, his staff and his players to win a conference title in the first year after implementing a new set of schemes and losing one of the school's all-time great coaches to it's upstate rival.

The future looks bright for SIU, especially after another offseason under Coach Lennon's tutilage.

But as of press time, it's Nov. 29, 2008. It's a long time 'til Spring Ball starts.

Until then, so long from McAndrew Stadium. It's been a heck of a ride.

Salukis lose 29-20 to New Hampshire [Daily Egyptian]