Despite out-gaining the Leathernecks 578-492 in total yards, the Coyotes (3-6, 2-3 MVFC) suffered their third consecutive loss against Western Illinois (1-8, 1-4 MVFC) 38-34 at Hanson Field on Saturday.
Western Illinois, winless coming into the contest, put together four touchdown drives in the second half to overcome a 20-7 third quarter Coyote lead. With 34 seconds remaining in regulation, junior running back Clint Ratkovich found the endzone from nine yards out, capping a five-play, 59-yard game-winning drive that took the Leathernecks 45 seconds.
Junior quarterback Connor Sampson totaled a career-high 368 yards through the air for WIU, completing 31-of-50 passes and throwing three touchdowns in the process. Junior receiver Tony Tate caught six of those passes for 100 yards and a touchdown while Ratkovich hauled in 10 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
In total, the game saw six lead changes, including five in the fourth quarter alone.
The Coyotes started off hot, taking a 17-7 lead into the halftime break. After giving up the opening score to WIU, senior quarterback Austin Simmons fired back with a 22-yard strike to junior tight end Brett Sampson to knot the game at seven early. After a field goal by junior kicker Mason Lorber, Simmons struck again, this time to sophomore tight end Austin Goehring to extend the lead to ten.
After another Lorber field goal three minutes into the second half, the third quarter belonged to the Leathernecks. WIU answered with a field goal of their own before Sampson converted his first touchdown pass of the game to Ratkovich to cut the Coyote lead to 20-17.
The fourth quarter turned into a shootout, both teams combining for 378 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. Sampson struck first with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Tate to regain the lead.
Sophomore running back Canaan Brooks answered with a nine-yard touchdown run for USD before WIU again took back the lead – Sampson finding grad student George Wahee to make the score 31-27.
With 1:24 remaining in the game, USD regained the lead as Simmons found junior receiver Caleb Vander Esch in the endzone before Ratkovich eventually won the game for WIU.
Simmons passed for 274 yards and three touchdowns on 25 completions in a game that saw USD run a program-record 107 plays from scrimmage for 578 yards of offense.
“Offensively we moved the ball well all day,” head coach Bob Nielson said. “Obviously we need to put more points on the board when we have the opportunity to do that.”
Sampson led all Coyote receivers with 52 yards on six receptions to pair with his touchdown grab. Goehring followed with 42 receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Junior running back Kai Henry bested his career-high rushing total from last week with a career-best in both carries (30) and rushing yards (145). Brooks rushed for 69 yards on 13 carries, while Simmons gained 79 yards rushing. As a team, USD ran for 304 yards.
Defensively, USD gave up 492 yards of total offense to WIU, who averaged 6.1 yards per play, and was unable to force a turnover. Junior defensive back Phillip Powell led the team in total tackles with 13 while also securing a tackle for loss. Senior defensive lineman Darin Greenfield totaled seven tackles and a sack, while freshman defensive back Cori Fant managed seven tackles.
“It was obviously a game that we certainly had opportunities to win,” Nielson said. “It’s one of those that you look back on and say ‘hey, we should have won.’ Our guys understood that and didn’t need me to say it.”
The Coyotes will look to regain their footing as they welcome Youngstown State to the DakotaDome on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m.
“Our team is a bunch of guys that are going to bounce back,” Nielson said. “They’re going to play hard. That’s what we need to do against Youngstown, we have to play hard, we have to execute, take advantage of every opportunity and play a little bit closer to the best than we have the past three weeks.”