Mickey Leads Coo To Playoff Victory

USF Cougars Defeat Azusa Pacific In First Round, 34-21

Playoff football at Bob Young Field certainly has a magical if not historical feel. For the first time in its NCAA DII era, the #4 University of Sioux Falls Football Team (12-0) won a playoff game and did so featuring its normal fare – a powerful rushing attack and a shutdown defense. With Mack Mickey providing 164 yards rushing and scoring three TDs, USF turned back #24 Azusa Pacific (9-3), 34-21, on a chilly (31 degrees) day Saturday.

The day after a blizzard hit the Sioux Falls area, the Cougars were undaunted by the cold temperatures and all business in opening up a 21-7 lead by halftime and controlling the second half with time consuming drives while maintaining a double digit point’s edge over APU, which also go by the nickname, Cougars.

USF, which moved to 12-0 for the first time at the DII level, recorded its first DII playoff win and did it at Bob Young Field where USF is 61-5 all-time and 13-0 in playoff games. Before moving to DII in 2011, USF won 12 straight home games in the NAIA playoffs. Of note, USF is now 1-1 in NCAA DII playoff games and 38-13 in postseason games overall. The Cougars, which have 12 wins for the first time since 2011, recorded its first playoff win since USF advanced to the NAIA title game in 2010 with a 38-0 victory against MidAmerica Nazarene on Dec. 4, 2010, also at Bob Young Field.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our coaches and players in their work preparation this week,” said USF head coach Jed Stugart, whose USF team will host #5 Harding (12-0) at Bob Young Field next Saturday in the second round of the playoffs. It will be a matchup of the #2 (Sioux Falls) and #3 (Harding) seeded teams in Super Region 3. “We stayed focused and committed to each other. It is that belief that helps us carry the day. We had solid, if not workmanlike, efforts in nearly every phase against a really talented football team,” added Stugart, whose alma mater is Azusa Pacific, where he played linebacker.

Mickey led a dominating offensive performance with 22 carries for 164 yards and three TDs.  In total, the Cougars rolled up 489 yards in 82 plays while holding APU to 178 yards on 50 plays.

Mickey is now the leading rusher in NCAA DII with 192 carries for 1,714 yards and 19 TDs. That total also pushed him to second all-time on USF’s season rushing list and only 12 yards behind all-time leader David Ruter (1,726, 1996). USF also received 20 carries for 90 yards and a TD from Justin Fulks while Luke Papilion had 10 carries for 58 yards and completed 10-of-21 passes for 127 yards. Leading the receiving corps was senior Erik Albeck, who had three catches for 77 yards, including a 37-yard acrobatic grab to set up a USF TD. 

For the seventh time this year, USF rolled up over 300 yards rushing, accumulating 318 on 59 carries. On defense, USF held APU to just 46 yards on 21 carries, which is a season best from the Cougars’ rush defense. In fact, USF also registered a season best in total yards allowed at 178.

In the post-game press conference, Mickey credited the offensive line for opening holes and being aggressive against a defense that had allowed just 97 yards rushing per game. “They were big today,” said Mickey. “They are the reason we are having so much success. They deserve the credit,” he said.

Stugart was pleased with his rushing attack and also with is rush defense, which seems to be getting better every week. “Both units came to play today. They really got after it.”

USF’s defense held APU to 16 points below its season total while recording six sacks, four TFLs, an interceptions and two sacks. The Cougars were led by linebacker Michael Mehling with eight tackles and two TFLs. Clifford Redmond had his sixth interception of the season while Connor Schoepp had his first career sack.

After a scoreless first quarter, Mickey put USF on top with a nine-yard run at the 14:18 mark of the second quarter. Mickey’s TD run culminated a nine-play, 65-yard drive that took 3:40 off the clock. The Cougars added to the lead when Fulks scored on a three-yard run at the 4:57 mark of the second quarter. The drive covered 78 yards in nine plays and used 4:19. It was one of five scoring drives of 64 yards or more.

At the 1:17 mark of the second quarter, Mickey found pay-dirt again on a four-yard run to cap a six-play, 64-yard scoring drive and a 21-0 lead. However, just a few seconds later, the Cougars turned the ball over to the APU Cougars on a muffed punt. With just 29 seconds to play Andrew Ellerts, who completed 6-of-20 passes for 112 yards and three TDs, connected with Weston Carr on a 15-yard TD pass and cut USF’s lead to 21-7 at the break.

“I wasn’t too worried about it,” said Stugart. “I told our team that they played a good half. Plus we were getting the ball back to start the second half and we have always responded well in the third quarter.”

Plus, USF rarely loses when holding the lead at the half-time break. After the win over APU, USF is 62-3 in the Stugart era (since 2010) when holding the lead. They are 11-0 this season.

While USF did not put up a TD in the third quarter, the offense dominated with two possessions taking up over 12 minutes of time. Out of the break, USF had a 16-play, 66-yard scoring drive that 7:27 off the clock and resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Brett Garner with 7:29 to play. USF’s lead moved to 27-7 when Garner, who has made combined five field goals in the last two weeks, made a 25-yard field goal after a 10-play, 51-yard scoring drive.

On the final play of the third quarter, APU cut into USF’s lead on a 53-yard TD pass from Ellfers to Carr as USF led 27-14. But USF responded with an impressive six-play, 92-yard scoring drive that was all Mickey. He carried the ball six straight times with the final tote a 51-yard TD run that pushed the lead to 34-14 at the 11:55 mark of the fourth quarter.

APU again responded when Ethan Zeidler hauled in a 19-yard TD throw from Elfers with 9:10 to play to trim the deficit to 13 points but USF’s offense ran clock and the defense stepped up to shut down the Cougars, including all-league defensive end Westly Johnson’s ninth sack of the season and 20th of his career, which places him 10th all-time at USF in career sacks.

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