South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler threw two touchdown passes to Tacari Carpenter and the Coyote defense stopped two fourth-quarter drives in a 28-25 win against the 11th-ranked UNI Panthers Saturday before a sellout crowd inside the DakotaDome on the 100th Dakota Days football game.
South Dakota (2-3, 1-1 MVFC) improved to 2-0 at home this season and 62-33-5 on homecoming weekends. UNI (2-3, 1-1) has lost three of four following a season-opening win at Iowa State.
The Coyotes led 21-17 at halftime and pushed the lead to 28-17 following Carpenter’s second score – a 29-yard catch in which he worked himself open while Streveler scrambled and split two defenders at the 15 before diving into the end zone. The drive was setup with an interception by Andrew Gray at the USD 32. It was Gray’s second pick in as many weeks.
UNI answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Aaron Bailey. Bailey threw complete to Trevor Allen for the two-point conversion and the Coyote lead was 28-25 with 13:46 remaining.
The Panthers got the ball twice more down the stretch. The first drive reached the Coyote 15, but a false start and a 5-yard sack by Taylor Lambert made Austin Errthum’s 34-yard field goal try more than a gimme. He missed it left and the lead remained three points.
The Coyotes punted back and UNI started on its own 35 with one timeout and 1:58 remaining. A 6-yard run by Bailey was followed by two incomplete passes, and South Dakota defense end Colin Mertlik sacked Bailey on fourth down to preserve the win.
Mertlik’s sack was one of five by the Coyote defense, which was on the field for more than 38 minutes Saturday. Mertlik had two in the second half and finished with seven tackles. Linebacker Tyson Graham had two sacks in the first half and posted 10 tackles.
It was UNI’s defensive front seven that entered play averaging nearly four sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss per game. They recorded no sacks and three TFLs for just five yards. In addition, the Coyote offense rushed for 203 yards and two scores against the nation’s fourth-best run defense. The Panthers hadn’t given up a rushing touchdown all season and were permitting 68 yards per game.
“I felt today was one of our better excecuted offensive games that we had,” said Streveler, who passed for 182 yards and ran for 128. “It always helps when the o-line is blocking like they did. They didn’t allow any sacks and I was barely getting touched back there in the pocket. They did a great job.”
Mike Meinert and Michael Bianchi earned their second straight starts on the right side of the line and left tackle Nick Jensen scored key wins against Panther defensive end Karter Schult on the other. Schult entered as the nation’s leader in sacks and TFLs. He had none of those Saturday.
Streveler broke containment on the third play of the game and sprinted 69 yards for the game’s first score just 1:17 into the game. Bailey countered with a 12-yard touchdown run on UNI’s first possession to knot the game at 7-7.
A 63-yard bomb from Streveler to Alonge Brooks setup a 10-yard touchdown run by Trevor Bouma on the Coyotes’ second possession. Bailey countered with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Michael Malloy that made it 14-14 just four possessions into the game.
Errthum hit a 29-yard field goal to give UNI a short-lived lead at 17-14 with 7:58 left before halftime. Two plays later, Streveler hit Carpenter down the left side with a 75-yard touchdown when Carpenter outwrestled the cornerback before taking off for the end zone.
“I beat him off the line and Chris put a perfect ball in front of me,” said Carpenter. “It fell into my hands like a gift and I just ran.”
Carpenter finished with career highs of three catches for 109 yards and two scores. His 75-yard catch is the Coyotes’ longest play from scrimmage this season.
Turnovers, which had plagued the Coyotes thru four games, weren’t as big of a factor Saturday. Streveler was picked off by Malcolm Washington late in the first quarter, but the USD defense allowed three yards on the ensuing possession and forced a punt.
“I want to congratulate our guys,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “That’s a great win for our program, and to do it at home in front of a really good crowd and to play a good football team and win the way that we did.
“We pretty much had the lead throughout the whole game and a few weeks ago, we didn’t do a good job of finishing the game out against North Dakota. I thought our guys played with great confidence in the second half and I think we did something today that we can continue to build on.”
Streveler averaged 10.7 yards per carry and 22.8 yards per completion. Bouma finished with 72 yards on 15 carries. He needs 18 yards to break into the top-10 on USD’s career rushing list and 130 to reach the top five.
On the other side, Tyvis Smith ran 20 times for 102 yards to lead UNI while Bailey carried 30 times for 95 yards. Bailey was 12 of 21 for 149 yards. No Panther caught more than two passes, but Christian Jegen led them with 48 yards receiving.
South Dakota returns to the road next week against Indiana State, which fell 36-35 on the road at No. 15 Western Illinois Saturday. The Sycamores are 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Valley play. USD returns home to host Illinois State on Oct. 22.