The Coyotes hung with rival South Dakota State University throughout this past weekend’s game, but a missed opportunity to take the lead and a late interception would seal the game for the Jackrabbits. Despite the Coyotes’ best efforts, they fell 21-28.
“Our goal was to win the football game and credit our guys for taking the game to the end and battling like crazy, but you know obviously falling short of the ultimate goal is very disappointing,” said Coyote head coach Bob Nielson.
SDSU struck first with a three-yard rushing touchdown to put the Jackrabbits up 7-0 early in the first quarter. The Coyotes responded with a 65-yard drive capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chris Streveler to junior wide out Brandt Van Roekel. SDSU kicker Chase Vinatieri would miss a 43-yard and a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter, which helped keep the Coyotes within one score. The game would go into halftime tied at seven.
The game was back and forth throughout the second half, as SDSU would take the lead again on a 47-yard rush to put them up 14-7 in the third quarter. USD would equalize on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Streveler to freshman wide receiver Dakarai Allen. The Jackrabbits would enter the fourth quarter with a lead, as they scored late in the third on a 86-yard drive finished off with a 20-yard rush from quarterback Taryn Christion.
USD was on the board first in the fourth quarter, when they tied the game at 21 on a three-yard rush from Streveler. The Coyotes would get a chance to take the lead midway through the fourth after an interception from sophomore Alex Gray, but senior Miles Bergner was unable to convert on a 32-yard field goal attempt. On the ensuing drive, SDSU marched down the field and scored on a seven-yard rush from Christion to take the lead. USD would go three and out on the following drive, but managed to get the ball back with 56 seconds left to play. The Coyotes would go 28 yards before giving up possession with 11 seconds remaining on an interception from Streveler. The Jackrabbits would take a knee and escape with a 28-21 lead.
Streveler led both teams in passing with 217 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception. He also was USD’s leading rusher with 66-yards and a touchdown. While the two teams were nearly equal in passing yards, 217 to 215, the difference in the game was in rushing.
The Jackrabbits totaled 415-yards on the ground to the Coyotes 136. USD struggled to stop the SDSU ground attack as two Jackrabbits would rush for more than 100 yards.
Brady Mengarelli and Isaac Wallace would go for 161 yards and 102 yards respectively, while Christion and Kyle Paris would run for 79 yards and 74 yards.
The Coyotes now switch gears as they prepare to take on North Dakota State. The Bison are currently ranked third in the FCS Top 25 and are coming off of five consecutive national titles. Despite NDSU’s impressive resume, the Coyotes are quick to recall last year’s trip to Fargo in which they defeated the Bison on a last second kick from now senior kicker Miles Bergner.
“It’s just like any other game for us in terms of it’s a conference opponent, a really good opponent,” said senior running back Trevor Bouma. “They’ve had a heck of a season so far, but we’re right there in many of our games so we’re just going to take it like it’s any other opponent on our schedule and hopefully come out with the W.”
USD is looking to play NDSU like they’ve played every team they’ve faced this year, but the Bison’s talent isn’t lost on them.
“We talked about it on Sunday and early in this week, there’s still a lot to play for. This is a huge game. These guys are the defending national champions, if that doesn’t get your blood boiling a little bit to play really nothing will. We’ve got a lot of guys who are young, we need to use every practice every game to its potential and get better every single play every day,” Streveler said. “This is a huge game for us. Definitely a game where we can build momentum going into next season and we’re really excited to play.”
For the Coyote seniors, this game marks the end of their journey at USD.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s the last football game of my career, a sport I’ve been playing for a long time,” said senior linebacker Jet Moreland. “I’m going to leave it all on the line for these guys that I care about so much and all the coaches and everybody. Just give it my all and not have any regrets when that final whistle blows.”
Even though the seniors may be moving on, they have helped lead the Coyotes in a transition from a team that failed to win a single conference game in 2014, to a team that is knocking on the door of their first playoff berth.
“It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t be here for another year and experience that playoff birth for this team, but at the same time building a winning culture is important and I’m excited to see what these guys do next year, because I know everybody on this team will give 150-percent even throughout practices for each other,” Moreland said. “It’s awesome to see the progression and actually something come out of all the hard work.”
For Bouma the four years have flown by and he is grateful for his time at USD.
“I feel like it’s gone by fast. Everybody says that, everybody warns you of how fast it’s going to go but you don’t think about that until you’re going into the last prep week in your final season,” Bouma said. “But I’ve had a lot of fun here, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve made a lot of friends, made great relationships and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished here.”
As a senior, Bergner has watched the team grow into something more over his time in Vermillion.
“It’s a big group of goofballs that love each other and that’s special. That’s something that’s going to be memorable for all of us old guys,” Bergner said. “We went from kind of nothing to having an awesome team for a couple years and guys that can really do stuff and produce on the field. I feel like we’re a lot closer than a lot of teams you look at who have won over four years.”
For guys who will be back next year like Streveler, the impending end to this season just marks the beginning of the next.
“I’m going to be hungry after the season ends to get right back after it and keep working because I know how good we can be and I know how close we were this season to potentially getting in the playoffs, a couple games here and there but sometimes it doesn’t work out and I’m excited to get back after it,” Streveler said.
With the loss to SDSU the Coyotes dropped to 3-4 in Missouri Valley play and 4-6 on the season. Kickoff time for this Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m.
“I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m confident in us. I think that we’re a good team,” Bergner said. “I know they’re a great team, they are there’s no doubt about it. I think it’s going to be a fight, I really do.”