– Confidence, patience and resilience lay at the core of #6 University of Sioux Falls Football Team's success in 2016. Those attributes were in place in a 41-30 road win at Winona State (5-1, 2-1 NSiC South), as the Cougars (7-0, 3-0 NSIC South) opened 7-0 for the third straight year while retaining first place in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and in the South Division.
Before 4,655 at Maxwell Field in Winona, the Cougars shook off a tough first half and scored 21 unanswered third quarter points to build a 22-point lead (31-9) and led by as many as 25 (41-16) in the fourth quarter before settling in with a seventh straight double digit victory in a first place NSIC South showdown Saturday.
"Our team is very confident in themselves and believe that hard work and patience will result in good things," said USF head coach Jed Stugart, who won his 60th game at USF and 85th as a collegiate coach. "We played a really good team and didn't have a lot of possession time in the first half but that all changed with a few adjustments at halftime and extraordinary, focused effort in the second half."
As has been this team's persona all-year, the second half is its too own. They have outscored opponents, 180-to-71 in the second half but even more impressively, 111-to-17 in the third quarter.
"It all goes back to the confidence that they have in each other. It doesn't matter what the situation is – this team simply believes in itself," said Stugart.
USF again produced over 400 yards in total offense with 411 against WSU, including 252 yards rushing on 44 carries. It is the seventh straight game that USF, which is averaging 354.6 yards rushing per game, has gone over 250 yards on the ground. Leading the way was junior running back Max Mickey, who had 14 carries for 91 yards and two TDs as he moved past 1,000 yards on the season. He now has 100 carries for 1,033 yards for 10.3 per carry and 10 TDs as he became the 15th player in school history to top 1,000 yards rushing.
What made USF's performance all the more impressive is that today's effort came against the league's top ranked defense, which was allowing just 111 yards per game. Aside from Mickey, senior Justin Fulks had 10 carries for 86 yards and a TD. Senior quarterback Luke Papilion turned in another efficient game finishing with 10 carries for 52 yards and two TDs while completing 14-of-20 passes for 160 yards.
While the offense found its rhythm in the second half, the USF defense had a stellar game, again holding another high scoring team below its average. And, except for two late TDs, USF's defense held high scoring WSU in check. The Cougars had six tackles for loss and four sacks, including a pair by senior defensive end Westly Johnson, who now has 5.5 on the season. USF also picked off two passes against a team that had committed just seven turnovers all season. Junior linebacker Kyle Campiotti played a steady game at linebacker with a team-high nine tackles while senior linebacker Michael Mehling had eight stops and senior cornerback Delvin Bastiste added eight tackles, a sack, 1.5 TFLs and two pass breakups. Josh Butler had seven tackles, pass breakup and his second career interception, which he returned a career-best 52 yards, falling just short of the end zone.
In what could have been billed as an offensive showdown among two of the league's best and most productive teams, it was the defenses that held fort early on. Fact is, WSU held the upper hand in plays (45-to-23) and yardage (209-to-108) in the opening half but USF had a 10-9 lead.
USF scored first when Butler had an interception his long return set up a two-yard TD run by Papilion at the 1:52 mark of the first quarter. After that, WSU held the upper hand for most of the second quarter, putting up three field goals but no touchdowns.
Carter McCauley had field goals of 34 and 47 yards to draw WSU within 7-6 at 8:22 of the second quarter. The Cougars answered with a seven play 46-yard scoring drive, culminated by Brett Garner's 36-yard field goal at the 4:48 mark for a 10-6 USF lead. With just 17 seconds left in the half, WSU drove deep into USF territory but couldn't pull the trigger from the three-yard line. McCauley's third field from 21-yards out cut the lead to 10-9 at the break.
After a halftime talk and adjustments in strategy, USF controlled the second half. USF, which had just 107 total yards in the first half, nearly tripled that with 304 in the second half, including 147 on the ground.
On their opening possession of the second half, USF moved 76 yards on nine plays, using 3:56 of the clock with Mickey's five-yard run pushing the Cougars' lead to 17-9. After the defense held, USF put together an 81-yard scoring drive in seven plays and 3:05 of the clock for a 24-9 lead as Papilion's scored on a nine-yard run at the 4:30 mark. After senior defensive tackle Pedro Sibiea picked off his first career interception, USF took just 2: 02 to push the lead to 31-9 as Fulks scored on a nine-yard run. But the key play in the drive probably was a third and eight run from the WSU 37-yard line. Stugart and offensive coordinator Dustan Hovorka has preached patience in its running attack all year. And, what appeared to be a passing situation turned into a 12-yard run by Fulks, which continued USF's second half momentum. Fulks promptly tore through the WSU defense on a 16-yard run to set up a first and goal and his reward was another carry and a TD.
With a homecoming crowd a bit antsy, WSU answered the 21-point USF surge with a 66-yard scoring drive in just 59 seconds. Cameron Johnson, who had eight catches for 140 yards and a TD, caught a five yard scoring pass from Jack Nelson at the 14:25 mark of the fourth quarter. Nelson finished 29-of-49 for 309 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
But if anyone thought that the momentum had shifted, USF quickly squelched that thought. On the ensuing drive, the Cougars move 77 yards in six plays at Mickey finished the drive with an 11-yard scoring run and a 38-16 lead. Just six minutes later, Garner added another field goal from 22 yards as the Cougars built a 41-16 lead with only 5:29 to play in th game. WSU scored two TDs in the final two minutes as Paul Preston, who had 87 yards rushing, scoring on an eight-yard run with 2:16 to play. Then after a USF turnover, Nelson connected with Elliott Cox on a two-yard TD run. But it was too little too late for the homestanding Warriors.
"I think late, we lost a little focus," said Stugart. "But it was a good lesson. We will know that we have to finish games off, no matter the score. That being said, we have run a gauntlet of games (Bemidji State, Augustana, Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State) and came through great. But that is the way it is in this league, every week is a new challenge. You just have to keep going and now that every game is an opportunity," he said.
Next for the #6 Cougars will be a noon game against Concordia-St. Paul at Bob Young Field.
~Luke Papilion now has 39 career rushing TDs, which pulls him into a tie for ninth all-time at USF with Kalen DeBoer, who also had 39 from 1993-96. In addition the senior quarterback surpassed 8,000 yards passing (8,150) for his career. He is the only 8,000 yard passer and 3,000 yard rusher in USF history.
~Mickey now has 2,052 career rushing yards, which ranks 12th all-time at USF, and 23 career rushing TDs.
~ USF has scored at least 37 points in all seven wins this season and own a 293-to-162 scoring margin or 41.9 to 23.1.
~ The Cougars passed last year's rushing total of 2,291 with 2,581 in just seven games. What may be most impressive is that USF has averaged 8.0 per carry while allowing just 3.0 to opponents. Mickey is averaging 10.3 yards per carry with Papilion at 8.3 and Fulks at 7.7.
~ With 411 yards, USF has gone over 400 yards in total offense in all seven games and are averaging 560.1 per game.