While the contest itself lasted little more than an hour of real time, the University of South Dakota’s annual football spring game provided plenty of spark, ending in a 28-28 tie.
The publicized scrimmage was a culmination of the team’s 15 spring practices and served to whet the appetite of Coyote fans for next fall. Instead of dividing players into separate teams, the spring game pitted the offensive units against defensive units for the entire game.
The game used a modified scoring system which rewarded points to the offense for touchdowns (6 points), extra points (1), field goals (3) and third-down conversions (1). On the other side of the ball, the defense scored points for turnovers (4), sacks (2) and third-down stops (1). The 13 offensive possessions began at various starting points on the field.
Head Coach Joe Glenn said the spring game gives the team an opportunity to gauge the level of cohesiveness among the starters.
“We pretty much have our starting lineup figured out after 14 practices and hopefully those guys are coming together and gelling as a team, both offensively and defensively — those are the No. 1(units),” Glenn said.
Additionally, the spring game offers the opportunity to non-starters to vie for a significant role next fall.
“I look for any other guys on the team who can get in the mix, as I call it,” Glenn said. “I call it that because it means they play well enough in this game and do well enough in their assignments and make some plays to make the coaches trust that they can put them in the game next fall in a critical situation.”
USD’s first-team offense was led by sophomore quarterback Josh Vander Maten on six possessions, three of which ended in scores. On the opening drive the Coyote offense drove 75 yards to put the first points on the board, capped off by a seven yard Vander Maten touchdown run. Vander Maten added another touchdown run in the final quarter of play and finished 8 for 12 through the air, with 112 passing yards.
Glenn said he was impressed with Vander Maten’s performance.
“He’s special and did a really good job. He took us in almost every time, other than when we fumbled,” he said.
Glenn credited a healthy Coyote offensive line for allowing Vander Maten the opportunity to utilize his abilities. Last season, Glenn said injuries plagued the offensive line, which made it difficult for Vander Maten to perform at peak level.
“I think he played better Saturday and a lot of that is because he had time to throw the football. A year ago, he had to sprint out and its hard to throw on the run. It narrows the amount of field he can throw to. He got better as the line got better but he’s always been good,” Glenn said.
Later, the Coyote offense pulled off a bit of trickery, as senior running back Jasper Sanders threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Kayl Barkley.
However, the Coyote defense adjusted, making seven stops on third down and recorded six sacks, recovered one fumble and intercepted a pass late in the game.
After the Coyotes drove down the field to the goal line late in the first quarter, senior linebacker Tyler Starr stripped Sanders at the two-yard line, giving senior teammate Steve Tellesfsen the opportunity to pounce on the loose ball.
Glenn said the fumble was Sanders’ only major miscue of the day, as the senior running back finished with 41 rushing yards on six carries and also caught one pass for 12 yards.
“I was disappointed we fumbled on the goal line,” he said. “Jasper had the fumble and it went into the end zone, the defense got it and it negated a touchdown. But he had a good game. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and he’s got some shake. He can bring some power if he has to and he has Division I experience.”
Overall, Glenn noted the team’s progress indicates a more promising fall than the last, as USD won only one game all season.
“We’re on the right track,” Glenn said. “We’ve committed to it on the field and our effort on the field. We’re taking steps in the right direction. Realistically, we lost four games by three points and another game by seven points so if we can get eight points better, that’s a couple wins right there. We’ll be more competitive.”