The Coyotes’ path to the playoffs now goes through South Dakota State University and North Dakota State University — two of the best teams in the country.
Another close game last weekend didn’t go the Coyotes’ way, as USD lost 28-35 to Southern Illinois. Despite being down 14-35 after a Southern Illinois score early in the fourth quarter, USD managed to rally with a 34-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Michael Fredrick and a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chris Streveler to junior wide out Alonge Brooks. The Coyotes managed to get into the red zone down by seven, but were unable to score as time ran out giving them a 28-35 loss.
Coyote head coach Bob Nielson pointed out turnovers and failure to convert as the reason USD fell behind. They dug themselves too big of a hole.
“We’ve got to do things a little bit better throughout the course of 60 minutes. We turned the ball over early and that hurt us on a couple of possessions,” Nielson said. “We didn’t convert third downs very well all day and we let them out of the hole multiple times when we had them behind the sticks and as a result we put ourselves in a position where our only option was that we had to come back.”
Despite the loss Streveler posted big numbers. He threw for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for another 113 yards and a touchdown. Brooks led all receivers with 110 yards and two touchdowns. Senior defensive back Jet Moreland had a strong game for the Coyotes with 16 total tackles, nine solo and seven assisted.
The game was another big one for Brooks. The junior transferred to USD this year and, like his quarterback, is playing his first season in a Coyote uniform. For Brooks coming into a new program took some getting used to, but now he is warmed up.
“It’s been kind of a fun process. It started off a little slow and then once I got acclimated to the program it sped up for me and now it’s just going at a steady motion,” Brooks said. “I’m happy to be a part of the program and glad that it’s speeding up for me now and I’m contributing more than the first couple of games.”
With the loss the Coyotes dropped to 4-5 on the year and 3-3 in conference play.
The Southern Illinois game marked another in a series of close contest for the Coyotes. While some have titled in their favor, the past two have not.
“It’s been kind of difficult going through some tough losses and also wins that were kind of similar types of games,” Brooks said. “When you lose one you just go to the next one and it’s just an obstacle to set us up for success, because we’re just learning and these last two games we’re going to take it and just play them like it’s our last every down and every play. I think that we’ll be fine and these last few games that we lost will set us up for success, because we aren’t complacent anymore because we’ve seen what that gets us.”
For the senior Moreland, he wants to make his final season special and that is an extra motivator.
“This being my senior year, there’s a lot more emotionally invested, so close games when you win everything’s great it goes our way and everything’s happy, but it’s even tougher when we take a loss in a situation like that. At the same time you’ve just got to recoup and prepare for the next game like you would as if you won,” Moreland said. “It’s been a good season so far, some games haven’t come out as we anticipated, at the same time we can’t let that distract us on a week as big as this one.”
The Coyotes now prepare to face the two week gauntlet of SDSU and NDSU. The two teams are currently ranked eleventh and fourth in the FCS STATS Top 25. For USD to win out and fulfill their playoff dreams, the team needs to improve from their past games.
“Not a lot that needs to be said. The guys understand that we need to play better. We’re going to play two quality opponents, starting this week with South Dakota State,” Nielson said. “We’ve got to do things better than we did Saturday and in the second half against Western Illinois.”
The team realizes that they control their own destiny. It is on them to win out, or they will be watching the playoffs from home.
“We control our own destiny here. We’ve got to come in and like Coach Nielson says we’ve got to play our best game and I think with the preparation we’ve had so far this week we’re going to be put in a good position to play well this week and we’ve just got to come out with intensity from the first snap to the last,” Streveler said. “It’s do or die at this point for the playoffs, so we’ve got to win out if we want to have a chance and I think that kind of fuels our sense of urgency with practice and our preparation.”
This sentiment is shared amongst the other players on the team.
“That’s what Coach Nielson harped on, we control our own destiny. We’ve just got to focus and prepare to the best of our ability. SDSU great team, NDSU another great team,” Moreland said. “Hopefully we scheme up the right way and just go out and execute the way we plan and prepare throughout the week.”
With the SDSU game approaching, that means it’s rivalry week in South Dakota. While USD versus SDSU may seem like old news to some, for Streveler and Brooks they will be experiencing it for the first time.
“I’m excited. Excited to see a lot of fans and a lot of people out there anticipating the rivalry,” Brooks said. “I’m more focused on the win, the rivalry doesn’t affect me that much just because I’m new to it and don’t really know that much about it, but I’m happy to be a part of something big at USD and get them a win.”
Streveler is excited for the atmosphere that comes along with a rivalry game.
“Everyone’s been talking about it and it should be really fun atmosphere. Seems like tickets are pretty limited, it might be sold out. I don’t really know, but rivalry games are fun at any level you play at so it’s going to be really fun and I’m looking forward to it,” Streveler said.
While Streveler and Brooks will be playing in their first State game, Moreland will be competing in his final.
“Not being from South Dakota, I didn’t really know what it was all about when I got here my freshman year. At the same time it kind of grows on you and it builds. I was talking to somebody the other day and they asked if there was a chip on my shoulder,” Moreland said. “You know the rivalry kind of grows and there becomes a chip on your shoulder in a game like this and it’s definitely a fun experience. I’m excited to play there in their new stadium so we’ll see how the game goes.”
The Coyotes travel to Brookings to take on SDSU on Saturday. Kickoff time is set for 2 p.m.
“Guys understand when you’re playing games of this magnitude and the importance of the game and really the importance of the game for both teams is not the rivalry factor, it’s where both teams are at and how important the win is for both of us,” Nielson said. “Certainly from a fan standpoint a lot of ownership, whether you’re a South Dakota State or a University of South Dakota alumni and our guys understand that when we play every week we’re not just playing for ourselves but we’re playing to represent the institution.”