The first night game in the DakotaDome since 2009 did not end they way USD had hoped, losing to Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1) 42-28 on Saturday.
Two fumbles and an interception hurt the Coyotes (3-3, 2-1) in key situations. All three USD turnovers came on bad spots at bad times. The first was a fumble on a kickoff return with less than a minute to go in the first half, the other two coming on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth quarter.
All three turnovers resulted in a Panthers possession inside the USD 25-yard line which led to two touchdowns.
“We were probably fortunate to be as close as we were in that game when we give a team 21 points, which is basically what we did,” Head Coach Bob Nielson said. “We turned the ball over deep in our territory three times, and at critical times. That’s not winning football.”
The Coyotes kicked off the scoring just over halfway through the first quarter with a 39-yard field goal by Mason Lorber, set up by a 42-yard pass from junior quarterback Austin Simmons to junior wide receiver Dakarai Allen. USD’s next drive ended with another Mason Lorber field goal, from 22 yards.
The Panthers drove 64 yards to cap the following drive with a 13-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Eli Donne to junior wide receiver Jaylin James. The Coyotes responded when Austin Simmons connected with Kai Henry for a three-yard touchdown, giving USD a 13-7 lead.
UNI answered with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Dunne to senior running back Marcus Weymiller. The ensuing kickoff spelled disaster for the Coyotes when a fumble from freshman returner from Wesley Eliodor was recovered by the Panthers at the four-yard line. 34 seconds later, Donne dove into the end zone on a quarterback sneaks to give Northern Iowa a 21-13 lead going into the half.
“There is going to be some heartbreak, but as leaders, we got to make sure all of our guys are up when we’re only down eight going into halftime,” Junior defensive end Darin Greenfield said. “That’s nothing with our offense. Sometimes guys get down when we’re down like that, and that can’t happen.”
Late in the third quarter and still trailing, USD began a drive at the six-yard line. Dakarai Allen made a tip-toe catch at the sideline to convert on third down. Sophomore running back Brandon Thull capped the drive with a two-yard plunge to score the first touchdown of his Coyote career. On the two-point conversion, Allen elevated over a defender to tie the game at 21.
The Panthers pulled away in a turnover-riddled fourth quarter. Following an interception from Austin Simmons, Dunne threw his fourth touchdown of the night to give the Panthers a two-touchdown lead. The very next play from scrimmage, Simmons fumbled the ball at the 15-yard-line, recovered by UNI sophomore Brawntae Wells for a touchdown.
“I don’t think it took a long time to get over it (the turnovers),” Allen said. “I believe that once we make our mistake we treat it like ‘it happened, it’s done’, we have to get past it and then just try to get back on track.”
Simmons threw for 328 yards on 34 completions. He finished with two touchdowns and one interception. Allen led the receiving corps with six receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown. Brett Samson added 57 yards on five catches. Henry contributed six catches for 26 yards and a touchdown.
A quiet Coyote ground game was led Thull, who carried the ball 12 times for 37 yards and a touchdown. Ben Klett tallied 10 carries for 21 yards.
“They were actually playing a lightbox, and we needed to be able to run the football,” Nielson said. “We are going to watch the film and be very disappointed in terms of how we blocked. We weren’t very consistent.”
USD travels to Youngstown State next Saturday for another evening game at 5 p.m. Five games left on the schedule, senior defensive lineman Darin Greenfield said the team is aware of the tough competition ahead.
“Every game you play in the Missouri Valley (Conference) is physical and tough. We have to play all four quarters, We have to game plan like we always do, we have to have a great mentality coming into this week of practice,” Greenfield said. “We have a lot of stuff to fix, and our guys understand that. We’ll give it our best shot and I honestly believe we can beat any team in the Missouri Valley but we have to have a great week of preparation and everybody believe on Saturday.”