The #4 University of Sioux Falls Football Team (11-0, 7-0 NSIC South) made history by clinching its first-ever outright NSIC title on Saturday with a 30-7 win over Wayne State at Bob Young Field before 2,078 in attendance on a chilly, windy afternoon. The win culminated an unbeaten regular season as the Cougars take an 11-0 record into the NCAA DII playoffs which begin next Saturday.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group than I am today," said USF head coach Jed Stugart, whose team recorded the program's 12th overall unbeaten regular season. "Since the spring practice, I felt we had something special with this team. The seniors showed tremendous leadership all year and every one on this team played their hearts and for each other."
With the win over Wayne State, USF finished 11-0 for the first time as a member of the NSIC. Following the game, NSIC Commissioner Erin Lind handed Stugart and his team the NSIC Trophy, which prompted the biggest celebration on the field since the Cougars moved to NCAA DII in 2011. USF had its first 11-0 season since 2010 and won the program's 20th conference title. It is the school's first ever regular season title in any sport at the DII level. And, the Cougars won the NSIC title in just its fifth year as a league member. In addition, USF has registered its 11th win for the second time in two seasons and earned its 60th win at Bob Young Field in just 65 tries.
"It is a pretty big moment for us," related USF all-league center Trevor Wescott. "Everyone played their hearts out in every game.
Added Stugart: "This group of guys believe in each other. I don't know if people understand how difficult it is to win a conference title in this league. We have a great bunch of coaches and incredible kids here," he said.
In total 26 seniors played their final regular season game and now will lead the USF team into the playoffs. On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the Cougars will learn of its playoff matchup. In the first three Super Region 3 rankings, the Cougars were ranked #2, which means if that holds true, a first round playoff game at home. USF will hold a "USF Football Playoff Watch Party" on NCAA DII Selection Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m. at Z-Hall on the USF campus. The public is invited to attend. The selection show begins at 4 p.m.
"This just means a lot to our team," said Stugart. "I mean the work and sweat this group has put into this season is the reason they have been successful. That and they believe and love they have for each other. We see it every day and it translates to success on the field," he said.
Against Wayne State, the Cougars opened up a 13-0 halftime lead, added 17 points in the third quarter and recorded a 30-7 win. For the 11th straight game this season, USF totaled over 400 yards in offense with 466 on 73 plays, including 281 yards rushing on 43 carries. Leading the way was junior halfback Max Mickey, who had 17 carries for 132 yards and TD runs of one and 13 yards. Senior quarterback Luke Papilion had four carries for 67 yards while completing 10-of-15 passes for 115 yards before turning the reigns over to fellow senior Corbin Lawler, who hit on 8-of-15 passes for 70 yards.
Senior wide out Josh Angulo had seven catches for 63 yards as he moved into third on USF's all-time receiving chart and past all-time great Jon Ryan (2007-10, 199 receptions). Angulo now has 205 receptions with 2,674 receiving yards, which ranks fifth all-time. Also for USF, Nicholas Stanke had three catches for a team-high 64 yards.
As for Mickey, he recorded his eighth 100-yard rushing game of the season and has 11 in his career. With 132 yards, he now has 170 carries for 1,550 yards and a 9.1 yard per carry average, which leads NCAA DII. In fact with 1,550 yards, Mickey ranks fifth all-time on USF's season rushing chart, trailing Mike Dvoracek (2004) by 63 yards for fourth all-time at the USF. He also surpassed 2,500 yards rushing in his career and stands at 2,569.
In playing about one half of the game, Papilion also went over 2,000 yards passing on the season (2,022) and for the first time in his career has 900 yards rushing with 906 on 114 carries or 7.9 per carry. He also cracked 12,000 yards in total offense with his 182 yards today pushing him to 12,107 in his career.
For the second straight week, USF's defense shut down a talented offense. The Cougars gave up only a late 45-yard TD pass (2:46 to play in the fourth quarter) or would have pitched a shutout. In total USF allowed just 289 yards in total offense to the Wildcats, including 122 passing. USF's middle linebacker Michael Mehling, who had double figure tackles for the fifth time this year with 11, led a stalwart defensive effort. Mehling, who is making a play for the NSIC South Defensive Player of the Year, now has 105 tackles on the season. He also had a sack and 1.5 TFLs. Josh Butler added nine tackles while USF had six TFLs and three sacks (40 on the season) and two interceptions. Both Kyle Campiotti and Jeffrey Harman had interceptions, both on acrobatic, athletic plays in the middle of the field.
Right away, Papilion directed the Cougars to a TD just 2:26 into the game when he connected with Brady Rose on a four-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead. The drive covered 75 yards in just six plays. For Rose, who had four catches for 21 yards, it was his 19th career receiving TD, which ties him with Zach Rutten (1997-01) for ninth on USF's all-time list.
After that early score, stout defense and windy conditions kept the scoring down. USF added two field goals as sophomore Brett Garner hit two of his three field goals on the day. He knocked in a 35-yard field goal with 12 minutes to play in the second quarter to cap a 45-yard drive. With 1:33 to go before halftime, Garner connected from 34-yards for a 13-0 lead. Garner's kick culminated a seven-play, 72-yard drive that took just 1:52 off the clock.
As has been the case all year, USF controlled the third quarter to the tune of a 17-0 advantage. USF now has a 149-24 advantage over opponents in third quarter scoring. USF pushed the lead to 20-0 (9:41, 3rd Quarter) when Mickey scored on a one-yard run to cap an eight-play 72-yard drive that took 3:11 off the clocking. At the 4:51 mark, Garner knocked home his third field goal of the game from 43-yards for a 23-0 lead. For the second time in his career, Garner made three field goals in a game (Henderson State, Nov. 21, 2015).
USF finished its scoring for the day on Mickey's second TD, a 13-yard run with 30 seconds to play in the third quarter. The USF TD was set up when Wayne State's Cody Cody Netusil had a punt go off the side of his foot for just three yards. Two plays later, Mickey was in the end zone for the 16th time this season with his 29th career rushing TD.
~ With his 12 points on the day, Brett Garner now has 177 career points, which ranks fifth all-time.
~ USF linebacker Michael Mehling recorded 10 or more tackles for the fourth straight game and now has 105 stops with 13.0 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, an interceptions and two forced fumbles.
~ The Cougars have generated 5,852 yards in total offense, which is the most in the DII effort. Now USF sets its sights on 6K, which was last accomplished in 2010 when Coach Stugart's squad at 6,076.
~ USF's rushing attack now has 3,555 yards, which is just behind the all-time mark of 3,842 by the 2009 NAIA national champions. USF is averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which is a record.
~ The 2016 USF team became the 12th team in school history with an unbeaten regular season. The previous teams included Cougars teams in 1988, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.