If this is par for the course for the Bob Nielson era, Coyote fans are in for a treat.
South Dakota scored 21 unanswered points in the final 11 minutes of regulation to force overtime and beat Weber State 52-49 on a Miles Bergner 34-yard field goal in double overtime Saturday inside the DakotaDome. It marked the first win for the Coyotes (1-1) under Nielson. USD has won 14 consecutive home openers dating back to 2003 and improved to 33-5 in home openers inside the DakotaDome.
Weber State (1-1) led 21-0 less than eight minutes into the game and built a second 21-point lead in the second half after South Dakota had climbed within seven at 28-21 early in the second quarter. All told, the teams combined for 864 yards on 174 plays from scrimmage, 106 by USD.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any defense. Weber State built a 21-0 lead despite one offensive play. Landon Stice stole a screen pass on USD’s opening possession and went untouched 63 yards the other way for a 7-0 lead. Dre Snowden recovered a Coyote fumble on the 6 to set up the second score – a wide receiver pass from Drew Batchelor to quarterback Jadrian Clark. Cardon Malan scooped up another fumble and scored tumbled a yard for a second defensive score.
“You never want to start a game like we did, but everybody on the team fought back and it was so exciting to be around a group of guys who are going to fight like that,” said USD quarterback Chris Streveler, who accounted for six touchdowns on the day. He passed for 173 and ran for 125 in his second game as a Coyote.
Streveler snuck in from one yard out and scored on a 45-yard scamper up the middle to quickly close the gap to 21-14. The Coyotes ran 56 plays for 271 yards in the first half, but trailed on the scoreboard 28-21.
The third quarter was all Weber State. Clark completed 10-of-11 passes for 124 yards in the frame and led the Wildcats on two scoring drives of 60-plus yards. He hooked up with Darry Denby for 47 yards on a deep pass to make it 35-21 and did much of the damage with his arm on an 8-play, 60-yard drive capped by a 1 yard plunge by Cory Thomson that made it 42-21 with 4:43 left in the third.
Clark was 21-of-33 for 207 yards and two scores, but it was his first turnover that swung the momentum in the fourth quarter. Weber State faced 3rd-and-11 from its 40 with 11:40 remaining when Clark rolled out and threw an errant pass directly to Coyote cornerback Adam Harris, who returned 34 yards to the 14.
“We were down 0-3 in take-a-ways,” said Harris. “And coach kept saying we need peanuts, we need interceptions so the only thing on my mind was make a play. We got to make a play to come back.”
Following the interception, USD faced 4th-and-4 from the 8 and redshirt freshman Austin Simmons was sprung into the game when Streveler was nicked up on a previous run. Simmons delivered a perfect lob to Riley Donovan who toed the back of the end zone for a score that made it 42-28. It was Simmons’ first collegiate touchdown.
“We got behind by 21 again and you’re at the verge there of falling apart,” said Nielson. “That’s where I think Adam’s play at a critical time there to generate a little momentum, and then a guy like Austin Simmons comes in on fourth down after Chris got banged around and makes a great throw at a critical time for a touchdown, and all of a sudden we had momentum. The rest of it was a pretty historic comeback.”
The Coyote defense forced a quick 3-and-out and just as fast, Streveler connected on a 42-yard long ball to Brandt Van Roekel who stretched into the end zone to make it 42-35 with 6:51 remaining. Van Roekel had four catches for 58 yards.
Both teams exchanged punts and Weber State got the ball back with 3:16 left. A defensive stop by safety Jacob Warner on 3rd-and-3 forced a punt and USD took over on its own 33 with 2:13 remaining.
Streveler completed a 3rd-and-9 to Shamar Jackson for 18 yards to reach the Weber State 33. Trevor Bouma, who ran for a game-high 150 yards on a career-high 36 carries, got just enough on a 4th-and-1 from the 24 with under a minute to go. It was 4th-and-13 and following a timeout, Streveler threw a strike to Jackson streaking from the slot for a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown.
“Chris made some throws at critical times, which is one of the things we have to be able to do,” said Nielson. “We have to be a balanced football team. They started loading up the box to the point where we needed to make some plays on the perimeter and we made those plays in the fourth quarter.”
Jackson caught a 10-yard touchdown from Streveler on the first possession of overtime to give USD its first lead, 49-42. Jackson, a sophomore, had career highs of six catches, 81 yards and three touchdowns. They were his first collegiate scores.
“My position coach, Matthew Middleton, was telling me all week that we had to win our 1-on-1s, so I went out and won my 1-on-1,” said Jackson.
Weber State tied it at 49-49 on a 25-yard toss from Clark to tight end Andrew Vollert, who led the Wildcats with six catches and 86 yards. But Taylor Hintz missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on Weber State’s second possession of overtime to open the door to South Dakota.
Bouma ran twice to get to the 17 and Streveler ran to the middle of the field on third and short to set up Bergner, who drilled the game winner.
“We have a great kicker,” said Nielson. “So at that point in time, even though we would have happily scored a touchdown, on third down we played to put the ball in a position that Miles likes. There wasn’t any doubt when the ball came off his foot.”
Harris came away with two interceptions Saturday, the first two of his Coyote career. He also forced a fumble early on and had three tackles. Colin Mertlik had both of USD’s sacks of Clark. Linebackers Jim Litrenta and Alex Coker led South Dakota with eight tackles each.
South Dakota wraps up non-conference play next Saturday against North Dakota in Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks (0-2) lost to Bowling Green 27-26 Saturday after a failed two-point conversion try with 13 seconds remaining. A blocked punt return score was their undoing in a 13-9 loss to Stony Brook in their season opener. South Dakota and North Dakota last met in 2011.