The passing attack of No. 25 Montana Grizzlies proved to be too much for the Coyotes to handle as USD fell 31-17 in its season opener at the DakotaDome Saturday afternoon.
Opening their season at home for the first time since 2013, USD was dealt their first loss in a home opener since 2002, according to GoYotes.
The game shaped up to be a defensive struggle as both teams failed to score any points for the duration of the first quarter. Junior kicker Mason Lorber broke the stalemate by connecting on a 20-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter, opening the scoring floodgates for the next 30 minutes of play.
Montana answered back as senior quarterback Dalton Sneed connected with junior receiver Samori Toure for a 16-yard touchdown three and a half minutes later. The play capped off a nine-play, 67-yard drive for the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies struck again on their next possession, as Sneed found pay dirt on the ground with a 2-yard run, giving Montana an 11-point lead.
USD responded 45 seconds before halftime as redshirt sophomore Kody Case snagged a 3-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Austin Simmons to pull within four.
Montana struck again before half, driving 37 yards to position junior kicker Brandon Purdy with a 43-yard field goal attempt just before halftime to expand the lead to 7. Montana led 17-10 at half, backed by Sneed’s 229 yards.
This continued into the second half, as Sneed found junior receiver Samuel Akem in the end zone on Montana’s first drive, putting the Grizzlies up 24-10.
Simmons responded in kind, connecting with Case twice on the following drive, the first being a 30-yard juggling circus catch which set up his 9-yard touchdown reception four plays later.
Montana’s offense continued to disrupt USD on the next drive, Sneed further punishing the Coyote defense as sophomore running back Marcus Knight caught a 6-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 14.
Although USD’s defense held Montana scoreless for the rest of the game, the offense squandered two fourth-down opportunities in the fourth quarter, securing a 31-17 win for Montana. Despite interceptions from juniors Jack Cochrane and Mark Collins Jr., Sneed’s 430 passing yards proved to be insurmountable for the Coyotes.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” head coach Bob Nielson said, on the Coyotes’ first loss of the season. “It’s not just disappointing that we lost the game, I’m disappointed because I think we certainly are capable of playing much better than what we did today.”
Simmons finished the first game of his senior campaign with 246 passing yards (271 total yards) for two touchdowns and one interception on 22/33 passing. Case tied the program record for receptions in a game with 11 receptions, posting a career-high 144 yards to accompany his two touchdowns.
Cochrane led the Coyote defense with eight tackles, while seniors Darin Greenfield and DeValon Whitcomb each added a sack.
Montana’s Akem caught nine passes for a carrer-high 158 yards and a touchdown while Toure reeled in nine catches for a career-high 142 yards and a score.
Saturday was defensive coordinator Travis Johansen’s debut, operating on a new defensive scheme. Cochrane, despite the loss, said he felt the defense showed their potential.
“Props to [Montana], they found some soft spots and they made plays,” Cochrane said. “But I think you saw that when we were executing the way we are capable of defensively we made the plays.”
Case, coming off of a redshirt campaign, found the silver linings from the offense.
“We came out pretty slow,” Case said. “That second half we really figured out what they were doing and got into a rhythm. We were coached up and knew exactly how the looks were going to be, we just needed to execute better.”
Lack of execution on USD’s end offensively is what Nielson said was the deciding factor of the game.
“We couldn’t keep drives alive which was really disappointing,” Nielson said. “We had plenty of red zone opportunities to put more points on the board and didn’t get them on the board. That really sums up the difference in the football game.”
USD travels to Norman, Okla. to face fourth-ranked Oklahoma next Saturday at 6 p.m.