Head coach Joe Glenn and the University of South Dakota football team finally got the monkey off their back with their first conference win Saturday.
It may have taken 10 attempts, but by beating the Missouri State Bears 17-14 in the DakotaDome, the program can now say they have won a game in the Missouri Valley football conference.
“I’m really happy, obviously,” Glenn said. “I’ve never won a game in this league before, so that’s a first. We’re all really happy.”
The win improved the Coyotes to a record of 2-3 (1-1), already marking an improvement in the win column over last year’s 1-10 season. They are now also 2-0 at home this year, which is important considering four of their final seven games are at the DakotaDome.
The headline at the beginning of the game was the change of quarterback. Throughout the week, the team worked sophomore Kevin Earl into the starting role and had previous starter and team captain Josh Vander Maten transition into becoming a wide receiver.
The move seemed to make immediate dividends, as the Coyotes marched right down the field on their opening drive, getting inside the Bears 10-yard line until Earl showed some rust by throwing a bad interception.
The defense picked up the slack and got USD on the board when junior linebacker Kyle Guziec picked off MSU junior quarterback Kierra Harris and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
Glenn said the defense really did their job at Saturday’s game.
“To be honest, they were the reason we won the game,” Glenn said. “They played outstanding today, got a score for us and got a lot of stops.”
The Coyotes held Harris to 72 yards passing and 14 yards on the ground. Senior cornerback Jarrid Bryant, a transfer from Arizona State, had an interception when the Bears were driving in the second quarter to keep the first half shutout alive. The Coyotes went into half leading 6-0.
Bryant said the defense came into today’s game ready to win.
“We found some plays they’ve been successful with in the past and tried taking them away,” Bryant said. “We did a good job of making them feel uncomfortable and run other plays.”
Things started to unravel in the third quarter and the Bears ended up jumping out to a 14-6 lead. But neither score can be blamed on the defense. The first Bear touchdown was scored after Earl fumbled inside his own 20-yard line. Their second score was on a blocked punt, which they were able to scoop up and score from 10 yards out.
The offense came back and fought, scoring a touchdown quick in the fourth quarter by way of a 18-yard screen pass to first-year running back Trevor Bouma. Earl then completed a clutch pass to first-year receiver Riley Donovan to complete the two-point play.
Bouma said the running backs adjusted well to their new quarterback.
“Jordan (Roberts) and I have worked a lot with Kevin over the past two years,” Bouma said. “It wasn’t too hard adjusting to him as our quarterback.”
The Coyotes then missed a big opportunity, when first-year kicker Miles Bergner missed a 31-yard field goal with under six minutes to go to goal to give the Coyotes a three point lead. He bounced back and was able to nail a 41-yarder with 1:26 left on the clock.
Glenn said it was huge for Bergner to forget about his miss and knock down the game winner.
“I’ve always believed letting my players know we all feel bad for you when you make mistakes, but you have to forget about it because we might need you to make an important play later,” Glenn said. “And that’s just what (Bergner) did today.”
The Coyotes have the back half of their back-to-back home games next week as they host Indiana State Oct. 12.