Keyed by a powerful rushing attack and a big play defense, #17 University of Sioux Falls (2-0, 2-0 NSIC) opened the 2016 season with a second consecutive win of over 20 points or more in a 42-21 decision over Minnesota State Moorhead (1-1, 1-1 NSIC) before 1,810 at Bob Young Field.
On Saturday night, the Cougars offense had another big showing with 604 yards in total offense on 75 plays or 8.0 per play. But it was USF's rushing attack that again played a lead role with 444 yards on 48 carries or over nine yards per tote. The 444 yards rushing is the most by USF since totaling 467 against Minnesota Crookston in 2013. Leading the way was Max Mickey, a junior back from Holden, Mo., who had 15 carries for 185 yards and cracked 100 yards rushing for the second straight week and the sixth time in his career. He now has a league-best 363 yards on 28 attempts or 181.5 per game and 13.0 yards per carry.
"I don't think we overlooked them because they are a talented team. All week we used the word 'alert,' because we knew they would come ready to play," said USF head coach Jed Stugart, who picked up his 55th career win in 71 games at USF. "While I don't think we were sharp, we were still able to get 42 points and 600 yards in offense. But, we don't turn the ball over like we did tonight so we were not as sharp as I would like us to be," he said.
"Still, a good football team is able to be resilient and not worry about it but keeping working and grinding. We knew we could run the ball so kudos to our offensive line and to the backs for driving and not going down. Our offense has taken a lot of pride in being a good running team this year," added Stugart, whose offensive unit is averaging a league-high 393.5 yards and 9.0 yards per carry through two games. Overall the offense is averaging a league-best 594.5 yards per game.
USF produced 600 yards in total offense for the first time since generating 661 on Oct. 10, 2015. It was the ninth time in the Stugart era in which the Cougars had 600 yards in total offense. And, USF has now had it was the 20th time USF has produced 500 yards in offense and produced a 20-1 record in those games. The 1,189 yards produced in the first two games in a season is the most during the D2 era (since 2011).
While Harlon Hill candidate and senior quaterback Luke Papilion had a little tough luck in the passing game (11-27-160 yards, 2 TDs), he led USF on long scoring drives all night. He also stunned the MSUM defense time and again by rushing 16 times for 149 yards and four TDs. In fact, he accounted for all six TDs scored by USF with two TD passes to Josh Angulo. It was the third time in his career that he had six or more total TDs.
Papilion, who now has 2,608 career rushing yards. recorded his seventh career 100-yard rushing game. With Mickey and Papilion going over 100 yards, it was the second straight week that USF had two players pass the 100-yard rushing mark in the same game.
USF opened up a 21-7 lead and after MSUM closed to 2821 late in the first half, the defense pitched a second half shutout. In the final second minutes the Cougars scored a pair of TDs to put the game away.
While the offense was picking up huge chunks of yards on the ground, the defense put together a solid game. USF had two fumble recoveries, both by senior cornerback Clifford Redmond, who had a big game on defense. He also had five tackles and one of the two USF interceptions. Junior safety Josh Butler had the other interception and led USF with 13 tackles while Michael Mehling had 10 tackles and a TFL. In total, the defense totaled four sacks with eight tackles for loss. Both Westly Johnson (13 career sacks), who also had 2.5 TFLs, and Drew Jackson had 1.5 sacks.
"Early on they were moving the ball with short slants and a few down the sidelines. So it was good to see our adjustments which produced turnovers and slowed down a very solid offense," said Stugart.
Aside from a Hail Mary TD throw by MSUM's Demetrius Carr in the final seconds of the first half, USF again was solid on defense, especially in the second half when they stopped MSUM at the goal line and pitched a shutout in the final two quarters.
The Cougars opened the scoring when Papilion began his productive night with an 18-yard run at the 12:53 mark for a 7-0 lead. His TD run capped a five play 48-yard drive in 1:16. MSUM responded at 6:48 of the first quarter when Damon Gibson, who had nine catches for 154 yards and two TDs, hauled in a four-yard TD pass from Carr, who was 20-41 for 252 yards and two TDs.
Papilion directed the USF offense on an eight-play 84-yard scoring driving in 2:38 by scoring on a four yard run with 18 seconds left in the first quarter. Then, the Cougars' defense stopped MSUM which allowed the USF quick strike offense to find pay dirt again. In just 15 seconds, USF led 21-7 as Papilion raced around the left end and sprinted past the Dragons' defense on a 55-yard TD run.
MSUM stayed closed as Carr scored on a 3-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 21-14. The drive was set up on a fumble by USF at its own three-yard line. One play later, the Dragons and Carr found the end zone. But in a fast moving first half, USF had the answer as Angulo, who had four catches for 71 yards and two TD receptions, hauled in a 12-yard TD pass from Papilion to cap a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive and a 28-14 lead. In the closing seconds of the first half, MSUM cut the lead to 28-21 when Carr's Hail Mary into the end zone was hauled in by Gibson on a 24-yard scoring play.
In the third quarter, the defenses were in control as neither team mounted any scoring opportunities. That changed midway through the fourth quarter as Papilion, Mickey and Angulo led two scoring drives. At 7:32 of the fourth quarter, Papilion connected with Angulo on a 37-yard pass for a 35-21 lead. The drive covered 62 yards in two plays and used just 17 seconds. With 2:44 to play, Papilion found the end zone again, scoring his 33rd career TD on an 11-yard jaunt for a 42-21 lead. The drive used 3:58 and covered 61 yards in eight plays.
~ Brady Rose had a big night for USF with 49 yards rushing on five carries and five catches for 60 yards. He now has 144 career catches for 1,914 receiving yards, which ranks sixth. He moved past Josiah Fenceroy, 2004-07, who had 1,901 yards.
~ Josh Angulo now has 156 career catches for 2,196 yards and 24 TDs in his career. The 24 TDs places fifth all-time at USF, passing Randy Lang, 1979-82, who had 23.
~ USF improved to 55-5 at Bob Young Field.
~ In home games, Jed Stugart's career mark at USF is now 31-5 as he picked up his 19th home NSIC win.
~ Papilion also pushed his career total offense total to 9,723 with 7,114 yards passing which ranks third all-time at USF. With two TD throws, he also ranks third in TD passes with 66.