The Coyotes dropped their third-straight contest to open the season, losing a shootout to Houston Baptist 53-52 inside the DakotaDome on Saturday.
The two teams combined for 1,238 yards of total offense in a game which saw senior quarterback Austin Simmons throw for 537 yards to break USD’s record for a single game, previously held by Chris Streveler at 520.
“I didn’t really know anything about the record,” Simmons said post-game. “The only thing that matters at the end of the day is that scoreboard. We’re 0-3 right now.”
Down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, USD’s defense twice contained the high-tempo Husky offense to regain the lead as junior running back Kai Henry rushed for two scores on consecutive drives with just over three minutes to play.
Junior HBU quarterback Bailey Zappe answered with a nine-play, 70-yard drive and junior running back Dreshawn Minnieweather punched the ball in from a yard away with 1:14 remaining. On the two-point attempt, Houston connected on a single reverse halfback pass reminiscent of the famed “Philly Special” from Super Bowl 52 to take the lead.
With just over a minute left in regulation, Simmons attempted to drive into field goal range for junior kicker Mason Lorber, but threw an interception to freshman safety Tra Fluellen to seal the win for HBU.
“I probably would have done the same thing in that situation,” head coach Bob Nielson said when asked about the two-point attempt by Houston. “Neither team had done a very good job of stopping the other all day. If you have a chance to win the game at the end, it’s probably the right decision.”
Following the “really disappointing loss,” Nielson gave credit to Houston Baptist.
“They’re a good offensive football team,” Nielson said. “They have a very good quarterback; their skill players are talented. Unfortunately, that doesn’t match very well with where we’re at defensively right now.”
Simmons completed 48 of 63 passes for four touchdowns and one interception to go along with his 537 yards. His 63 attempts and 48 completions are also USD records. The team’s 642 yards set a program record as well.
Henry led the team with 83 yards rushing to pair with his three touchdowns on the day. Senior wide receiver Randy Baker tallied 102 yards receiving on 11 catches, while Vander Esch added 104 yards and a score. Herrmann totaled 76 yards along with his two touchdowns.
Junior safety Phillip Powell stood out from an otherwise lackluster defensive effort, securing two interceptions and seven tackles. Fellow junior safety Elijah Reed led the team with 13 tackles and added an interception as well. Senior defensive lineman Darin Greenfield tallied the team’s only sack.
Junior linebacker Jack Cochrane said Houston’s high-tempo offense didn’t cause the defense problems, it was lack of execution on their part once again.
“We knew they were going to run tempo. It wasn’t the tempo giving us problems so much as it was executing,” Cochrane said. “It sounds cliché and simple, but it’s what really good teams do and we weren’t a really good team today.”
In the first quarter, Lorber broke the scoreless tie eight minutes into the game, converting a 30-yard field goal. The Coyotes tacked on seven more points on the final play of the first quarter — Simmons connected with junior tight end Connor Herrmann for his first touchdown catch of the season.
Zappe answered back under two minutes later, throwing 23-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Ben Ratzlaff to cut the Coyote lead to three. Five minutes later, Henry punched in a one-yard score, finishing off a ten play, 79-yard drive and extending USD’s lead to 17-7.
With just seven seconds left in the half, Simmons threw a strike to senior receiver Dakari Allen from two yards out to give the Coyotes the lead 24-17 heading into the half.
Simmons completed 23-of-30 passes for 224 yards in the first half while Zappe was 11-of-18 for 134 yards and two interceptions.
Houston Baptist came out with guns blazing from the halftime break, marching down the field using a hurry-up offensive attack. Zappe found Ratzlaff to cap off a six-play, 61-yard drive that ate only one and a half minutes off the clock and tied the game at 24.
USD answered by driving 75 yards in four plays, as Simmons hit junior receiver Caleb Vander Esch over the middle to pull within one. However, the Coyotes were unable to tie the game as Lorber’s extra point attempt was blocked.
Zappe extended the lead to eight when he completed his touchdown pass to Ratzlaff, but USD answered with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Simmons finding Herrmann in the end zone for the second time. Allen caught the two-point attempt to tie things up at 38 heading into the fourth.
The Coyotes were forced to dig deep into the roster in the secondary as junior defensive back Mark Collins Jr. did not play and junior cornerback Bakhari Goodson and sophomore safety Cameron Tisdale left due to injury.
USD will look to earn their first win of the season on Saturday, Sept 21 in Greeley Colorado as they take on Northern Colorado.