TERRE HAUTE – Senior Terre Haute native Tsali Lough single-handedly sparked the Sycamores to a 41-25 win over Butler to open the 2016 season at home on Saturday.
The mood inside Memorial Stadium was festive to start, but the Bulldogs (0-1) set a demonstrative tone early with a strong three-and-out and then a long drive to the Indiana State (1-0) one-yard line. And then, the Sycamores awoke.
On second-and-goal from the one, Butler QB Malcolm Weaver appeared to have crossed the plane on a QB sneak, but to the surprise to everyone (including the Bulldogs), Tsali Lough started streaking down the right sideline with the ball under his arm and evaded a tackler near the 20-yard line for a 100-yard touchdown on the fumble recovery.
With the play never being called dead, senior defensive lineman Tyshon Waller appeared to have forced the ball out of Weaver’s hands and got it into Lough’s, who then sprinted off from the endzone for the score.
The play is the fourth 100-yard play in Indiana State history, but the first for a fumble return (the other three being interception returns). In fact, this is the second-consecutive season with a 100-yard defensive touchdown for the Sycamores, as Travis Starks took an interception 100 yards to swing the momentum against Southeast Missouri on Sept. 19, 2015.
That was just the beginning for Lough and the defense. On the very next offensive play after the kickoff, Lough struck again with an interception of a Weaver pass to the right sideline. Lough’s play setup a strong ISU offensive drive that culminated with sophomore QB Isaac Harker – named the starter at gametime – to run a one-yard QB sneak for the first Sycamore score of the season.
Harker, a native of Lebanon, Ind., had a tremendous day to begin his Sycamore career as a starter. His final line read 21-of-35 for 315 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, in effect becoming the first 300-yard passer since Mike Perish in 2014.
Part of that was due to the incredible receiving corps surrounding Harker – led by senior NFL prospect Robert Tonyan Jr. Tonyan hauled in seven passes for 92 yards to lead the crew, and new tight end Jacquet McClendon had four for 65 yards and JUCO transfer Bob Pugh excited with three catches for 94 yards and a touchdown – including a 56-yard bomb down the right seam from Harker in the third quarter. Pugh followed that up with a 90-plus yard kick return that was eventually called back.
Despite a tremendous start for the Sycamore offense, the story of the day was the clutch play of the defense. Butler out-gained ISU in rushing yards (145-124) and wasn’t far off in total offense (439-390 ISU), but the difference of the game came from the three lost fumbles and one interception thrown on Saturday.
Joining Lough in the fun in the turnover department was senior leader Jameer Thurman, who began his final season as a Sycamore with six tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Up next for Indiana State is a very tough test though: the Sycamores travel up north to take on Minnesota next Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNews.
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