After nearly two decades of falling short, USD (5-7, 4-4 MVFC) finally bested their in-state rival SDSU (8-4, 5-3 MVFC) 24-21 in front of 5,405 fans inside the DakotaDome on Saturday.
After falling behind 7-0 early, the Coyotes battled back and produced three defensive stops late in the game to achieve the three-point victory on their Senior Day. The win marks the first time since 2000 USD has defeated the Jackrabbits.
“It’s a good win,” head coach Bob Nielson said. “It puts a finishing touch to the year that I think we can build on in the future and now the next step is to build our program to a point where a win like that is not an upset.”
Senior quarterback Austin Simmons’ final stat line as a Coyote included a team-leading 47 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground paired with 252 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
“It’s hard to put into words really,” Simmons said. “It was just such an exciting game, all the ups and downs. The defense really just did an incredible job holding them, forcing turnovers. Just an amazing win. It feels great.”
With the score 7-3 in favor of SDSU, Simmons’ first scoring strike came with eight seconds left in the first half. He found junior tight end Brett Samson from one yard out on fourth down to give USD their first lead of the contest 10-7.
Senior Jackrabbit running back Mikey Daniel, who rushed for 125 yards, struck first in the second half on a 27-yard scamper to take back the lead for SDSU. However, Simmons countered with a touchdown rush of his own from two yards out as the Coyotes went up 17-14 and never gave up the lead again.
Simmons again found Samson in the end zone to extend the lead to 24-14 with 2:26 left in the third quarter, and an eight-yard touchdown catch by SDSU senior fullback Luke Sellers with 11:44 remaining in the fourth proved futile as the Coyote defense stood strong.
SDSU had three offensive drives following Sellers’ touchdown. The first ended as sophomore Coyote safety Isaiah McDaniels forced his second fumble of the game, the second ended on a loss of downs, and the third ended with the team’s fourth turnover of the day as they fumbled on a last-ditch lateral play.
“That’s the moment you practice for and go through five years of football to be out there to do,” senior defensive end Darin Greenfield said. “To have the game end the way it did, it was the best way.”
USD’s defensive performance was headlined by McDaniels, who forced two fumbles which the Coyotes recovered. He also tallied nine total tackles, one being for a loss. Junior linebacker Jack Cochrane led the team with 11 tackles and one sack, while junior safety Elijah Reed added another 10 tackles.
Greenfield said he knew the upset was imminent when he saw how his teammates were practicing throughout the week.
“I could tell when we started practice that the seniors were really leading the charge with the effort and the charisma in practice and all week you could tell that this would be the year that we did it,” Greenfield said. “I’m done playing football here but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been right now.”
Offensively, sophomore running back Canaan Brooks compiled 37 rushing yards as he got the start over an injured Kai Henry. True freshman running back Travis Theis ran for 32 yards in significant game action. Samson finished with 71 receiving yards to go with his two touchdown grabs. Sophomore receiver Kody Case totaled 111 receiving yards on five catches. Two of his catches placed the Coyotes in the red zone and led to touchdowns.
The Coyote’s 4-4 finish in conference play tied their best finish in the Mountain Valley Football Conference and marked the seventh-consecutive season where the team defeated a top-25 ranked opponent. Senior defensive lineman DeValon Whitcomb said while the victory meant a lot for the seniors, it also generated a lot of momentum for the next season of Coyote football.
“That was a great win,” Whitcomb said. “A great team win too. This program really needed that win. We’re in the process of transitioning; new defense, new recruits coming in. That gave the team that’s still going to be here the opportunity to know what we can do.”