Winning is a habit that defines the #15 University of Sioux Falls Football Team. It doesn't matter if the Cougars play on the road at home because the result is usually a check in the winning column. With a 41-14 road victory over Minot State (1-2, 1-2 NSIC), the Cougars (3-0, 3-0 NSIC) opened the season for the third straight season with a 3-0 mark. In home NSIC game USF is 19-4 and today's win pushed their road mark to 18-6.
This victory, the sixth straight in the series over Minot State, was earned the same way as the 23 in the past 27 games have been – plenty of offense and a big play defense. This winning verdict was fashioned with 453 yards in total offense with the running game again playing a key role. For the third straight games, USF went over 300 yards rushing with 328 yards rushing on just 40 carries for an 8.0 average per carry. For USF, which ranks fourth in the country in rushing and second in total offense, now has compiled 371.7 yards rushing per game or a whopping 8.8 yards per carry. Yep, that is just about a first down every carry. The last time USF had three consecutive games of 300 yards rushing or more in succession occurred in the 2013 season (467 vs Minnesota Crookston; 424 vs. SMSU and 348 against Winona State).
"You have to hand it to this offensive line group. Under the direction of coach Josh Breske and the rushing scheme of offensive coordinator Dustan Hovorka, this offense is punishing people at the line of scrimmage and then the backs are finding seams, sometimes, really large openings in the defense," said seventh year head coach Jed Stugart, who picked up his 56th win at USF. "I was really pleased with our performance on the road today. This team continued to perform at a high level," said Stugart.
As for the offense, USF is averaging 547.3 yards per game or 8.1 yards per play. On defense, the Cougars are giving up just 16.0 points per game and held Minot State to 322 yards with just 50 yards rushing or 1.4 yards per carry. In addition, linebacker Michael Mehling continued to shine in the middle for USF, finishing with 10 tackles, a TFL and had his first career interception, a pick six that he returned 36 yards for a TD. Mehling has had double digit tackles in two of three games this year.
Remarkably, the Cougars, directed by defensive coordinator Tremaine Jackson, scored its 20th defensive or special TD in the past 27 games and it is the 36th defensive/special teams TD in the Stugart era (since 2010). Jess Williams added seven tackles, a sack and TFL to a defense which accumulated four more sacks to give USF 11 on the season. They recorded nine tackles for loss, including three by senior defensive end Westley Johnson, who had two sacks and now has 15 in his career with 3.5 this season.
"Scoring TDs on defense is an emphasis we have during practice and carried out in games. We want to be able to turn turnovers into points," said Stugart. "This defense continues to make strides. They had another solid effort today," he said.
For the second straight week and the ninth time in his career, senior quarterback Luke Papilion rushed for 100 yards, going for 101 yards on seven carries with two TDs. He now has eight rushing TDs this season and 35 in his career, one away from reaching USF's all-time top 10. Papilion also completed 10-of-22 passes for 125 yards and a TD and the senior who is third nationally in total points responsible for now has 13 total TDs in just three games. Senior running back Justin Fulks added 94 yards on nine carries with a career-long 54 yard gallop.
Against Minot Staff, the Cougars struck first as Papilion scored on a career-best 72-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. It was USF's fifth TD scored in under 40 seconds this year. In fact in the past two plus seasons, USF has had 21 TDs scored on drives that didn't even take a minute. The TD by Papilion was his 100th combined TD (pass or rush) in his career.
Later in the half, Minot State answered as fullback Jacob Lopez scored on a one-yard TD run to cap a 68-yard scoring drive that took 6:22 off the clock. But like they have done in the previous two games, when a team draws close or even with USF, the Cougars have the answer. On the ensuing drive, USF utilized the run and the pass Cougars answered with a long scoring drive, utilizing both the run and pass to regain the lead. Max Mickey, who had nine carries for 77 yards, scored his second TD of the season on a one-yard run. In the drive USF had 45 yards rushing six carries and a 31-yard pitch and catch between Brady Rose and Papilion.
USF missed the extra point for a 13-7 lead with seven minutes to play. Just before the half ended, the Cougars put a little distance between themselves and the Beavers. Mickey, who had a 40-yard run on the drive, capped a 72-yard drive in just over one minute (1:16) with a one-yard TD run, his second of the day. With Garner's extra point, USF took a 20-7 lead to halftime.
In the second half, the Cougars took quick control as they have made a trend this season. USF has a 70-13 edge in second half scoring, including a 35-0 edge in the third quarter. At the 5:34 mark of the second half, Papilion had his second rushing TD of the game on a two-yard run for a 27-7 lead. The Cougars took just 2:55 to move 85 yards in seven plays on the drive. Less than two minutes later, Mehling had his pick six as the Cougars took a 34-7 advantage. With 14:50 left, Papilion connected with Brady Rose on a 24-yard scoring play which capped a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive.
Next for USF will be a matchup with #24 ranked Bemidji State at Bob Young Field at 6 p.m. in the Hall of Fame game.
~ Papilion is closing in on 10,000 yards in total offense with 9,949. He pushed his career passing to 7,239 while increasing his rushing total to 2,710, which leaves him just 46 yards from seventh all-time (Dad Micheline, 1997-2001), 2,755.
~ USF produced 400 yards or more in total offense for the 12th straight game
~ Papilion has nine career 100-yard rushing games, which is the most by a USF quarterback in school history. He is just one away from fifth on USF's all-time 100-yard rushing game chart.
~ The lightning quickness of the USF offense continued. In 14 of the 18 USF scoring drives this season, USF has taken less than 3 minutes to put up a score. In the past two plus seasons, USF has had 99 scoring drives of three minutes or fewer.