USD defeated Northern Colorado 43-28 in a strong offensive exhibition at the DakotaDome Saturday afternoon.
The Coyotes dealt the Golden Bears their second loss of the season and moved to a record of 1-1.
A fast-paced Coyote offense took the lead on the first drive of the game when sophomore running back Kai Henry rushed one yard into the endzone, capping a nine play, 75-yard drive with his second touchdown of the season.
Northern Colorado senior running back Trae Riek answered on the following drive, rushing 11 yards to the endzone following a long 4th-down conversion two plays prior.
The ball returned to junior quarterback Austin Simmons’ hands the next drive, who, after a 45-yard rush from the pocket, found sophomore Brett Samson with a two-yard touchdown pass, putting the Coyotes up 14-7 with 6:45 remaining in the first quarter.
Three minutes later, UNC senior quarterback Jacob Knipp met Riek with a 15-yard touchdown pass, tying the game 14-14.
The Coyotes set the tone for the second quarter two plays in when junior receiver Trystn Ducker took a short pass from Simmons 76 yards along the west sideline and to the endzone, giving USD a 20-14 lead.
With eight and a half minutes left in the half, Shamar Jackson snagged a 13-yard touchdown pass from Simmons. Freshman receiver Reggie Crawford followed suit with three minutes left, elevating over a UNC cornerback to catch a four-yard touchdown pass on a fade route.
USD led UNC 34-14 at the half.
Austin Simmons accumulated 342 yards and four touchdowns on 21/26 passing by halftime, running an offense that didn’t hold the ball for more than three minutes at a time during the first two quarters.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Northern Colorado showed signs of a comeback in the fourth quarter — Knipp throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to senior Theron Verna and then a 25-yard pass to senior Alex Wesley to bring the Golden Bears within six points of the Coyotes at the 8-minute mark.
Following a 60-yard reception by Shamar Jackson, Simmons won a two-yard foot race to the east pylon, putting the Coyotes up 40-28 with five minutes remaining.
The Coyotes then recovered a fumble caused by Jake Matthew on the proceeding kickoff, Lorber hit a 33-yard field goal, and the Coyotes claimed their first win of the season with a final score of 43-28.
Austin Simmons dominated the stat sheet with 462 yards passing (543 total) and five touchdowns (one rushing) on 31/40 passing. Shamar Jackson led the receiving corps with seven receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown, followed by Trystn Ducker with four catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side, senior linebacker Alex Gray recorded 8 tackles (one for loss), junior defensive end Darin Greenfield tallied seven tackles (three for loss) and two sacks, and Sophomore Philip Powell caught his second interception of the season to accompany seven tackles.
UNC’s Jacob Knipp threw 331 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception on 26-35 passing, Alex Wesley caught 10 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown, and Trae Riek rushed 12 times for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Following the game, head coach Bob Nielson said he was pleased how his team closed the game.
“I told our guys after the game I was pleased with the character we showed when it got tight,” Nielson said. “We put together a nice drive, put the ball in the endzone, forced a turnover on special teams, and put the game away.”
Austin Simmons passed for career-high yardage and matched his 2017 touchdown total in Saturday’s game, all while bumping his completion percentage from 43% against Kansas State to 77 percent.
“I think he threw the ball well,” Nielson said. “The first half he had a lot of easy throws, and he converted short throws into long gains, which is part of what our offense wants to do.”
Those long gains can be accredited to a receiving squad managed by Shamar Jackson, the Coyote’s leading receiver in 2017. 11 different USD players had at least once reception during the game, compared to just six players a week prior.
“Our offensive game plan was pretty simple for us a unit,” Jackson said. “We came out and executed. We did what we had to do.”
Junior receiver Dakarai Allen was disqualified following his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter and sophomore Kody Case is expected to be back next week after missing the first two games of the season with an injury.
“I’m optimistic Kody will be back next week and to lose Dakarai Allen to an undisciplined mistake is certainly something we have to correct,” Nielson said. “We need to continue to utilize our depth and it’ll be nice when we get the full staple back.”
USD racked 635 yards of total offense, but only 101 came from the team’s three lead running backs: sophomores Kai Henry, Ben Klett, and freshman Canaan Brooks.
Nielson said the rushing lack came from a combination of things, including blocking and UNC’s defensive scheme.
“Some of it was what they did and some of it was that we didn’t block very well. We need to block better,” Nielson said. “Our rushing totals look better than what they are because Austin [Simmons] had a couple of long runs.”
Nonetheless, Nielson said the game was a good win.
USD travels to Ogden, UT to play Weber State next Saturday at 7 p.m.