Cougars Whip Wayne State & Await Postseason Fate
On D2 Playoff Bubble, USF Wins 41-21 To Finish 8-3
WAYNE, NEB. – Led by a career-best five touchdown passes from Caden Walters, the University of Sioux Falls Football Team (8-3, 8-3 NSIC) rolled to a 41-21 victory over Wayne State (4-7, 4-7 NSIC) as the regular season concluded at Bob Cunningham Field.
USF, which forced five turnovers, used 17-point barrages in the second and fourth quarter to turn back WSC for the eighth straight time in the series between the two schools. After trailing 7-0 after the first quarter, USF put 17 points up to take a 17-14 lead at the break when Walters had two TD passes and Daniel Esparza hit a 21-yard field goal. The two teams traded TDs in the third quarter before USF outscored the Wildcats, 17-0, in the fourth quarter to win the game comfortably at 41-21.
With the victory, the Cougars kept their hopes for the NCAA DII playoffs. USF, which earned their sixth win in seven games and now stand 8-3 overall, was ranked eighth in the third NCAA DII Super Region 4 rankings which were released on Monday. USF will await the decision of the NCAA DII Playoff Committee which will announce the 28-team field at 4 p.m. (CST) on Sunday, Nov. 17 on NCAA.com.
With the win today, USF Head Coach Jon Anderson was pleased with his team resiliency (loss of seven starters to injury this season) and expounded on the heart of a squad which is led by 26 seniors.
“I am really proud of our football team. They forced turnovers and had a couple of big offensive drives which proved to be the difference in the game,” said Anderson, who earned his 24th win at USF. “We showed great heart. They leaned on each other and finished off with another big win. It was important for us to stay ahead of the sticks. We settled in and put in the work. I thought we had a gritty performance and proud of how we responded,” he said.
“This team was led by a group of seniors, who have left their mark on Cougars football. They have done a lot of great things and we hope they get another opportunity to show what they are capable,” added Anderson, whose team extended the program’s consecutive winning season total to 26, which is fourth best in all levels of the NCAA. “Over the last seven weeks, they have only lost to No. 4 Minnesota State and this group led at halftime and in the second half of that game. They have been tremendous down the stretch of this season,” he said.
In moving to 5-1 in road games this season, the Cougars were led by senior quarterback Caden Walters, who completed 20-of-29 passes for a career-best 286 yards and had a career-best five TD passes. He is the fourth USF quarterback to throw for five TDs in a game in the program’s DII era (Luke Papilion, 2015; Taylor Perkins, 2013; and USF Athletics Hall of Famer Kurtiss Riggs, 1996). Walters now has completed 162-of-264 passes for 61.4 percent and 2,352 yards with 24 TDs this season. He finished the regular season with a 163.96 pass efficiency ranking. He finished first in the league in passing yards, completion percentage, TD passes and total offensive yards. With five more TDs, he has 38 in his career for ninth in the all-time USF chart. He also ranks ninth in passing yards with 4,386 and his completion percentage is third all-time.
After a slow start, sophomore running back Thuro Reisdorfer had a big game for USF. He rushed 17 times for 78 yards and caught three passes for 48 yards and a 28-yard TD which gives him 17 scores on the season. In addition, he ranks fourth in the NSIC (3rd in yardage) with 150 carries for 984 yards and 12 rushing TDs.
USF’s receiving corps continued to shine as senior wide receiver Nate Johnson had a strong day with four catches for 75 yards and two TDs. Karnell Collier added seven catches for 55 yards and a TD while Jermaine Broadnax had four catches for 68 yard yards and a 26-yard TD. In special teams, sophomore Thomas Chapin came up huge with four punts for 180 yards and a career-long 73-yard punt as he averaged 45 yards per kick. Kicker Daniel Esparza made both of his field goals (21, 19) and converted five extra points. He is now 9-of-11 on field goals this year with 47-of-50 extra points.
On defense, the Cougars were led by senior all-league linebacker Brody Grantham, who had eight tackles, TFL and a fumble recovery. Harvey (Michael) Enalls had four tackles, forced fumble and his second interception this season. Senior safety Tucker Stout had three tackles and a fumble recovery as he has had a turnover (interception or fumble recovery) in five straight games. Also senior defensive tackle Nick Zimmerman had three tackles with a sack, two TFLs, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Overall, USF held a 420-to-297 total yards in offensive advantage. USF had 134 yards rushing and 286 passing. Interestingly, USF’s defense, which is ranked second in the country, allowed just one team this year to gain over 300 yards (No. 4 Minnesota State), held three teams to 160 or below and five teams to 230 yards or fewer.
Game Recap –
In the opening quarter, Wayne State grabbed a 7-0 lead over USF with a 63-yard TD run by Devin Merkuris at the 8:24 mark of the first quarter. Merkuris had 17 carries for 121 yards and a TD on the day. WSC moved the ball 77 yards in five plays and used 2:04 of the clock to take the early lead, which was their only advantage of the game.
By creating two quick turnovers, the Cougars regained the lead in the second quarter. After a USF punt, Stout recovered a fumbled punt to give USF the ball at the WSC’s 22-yard line. From their USF scored in three plays as Walters hit Johnson on a 20-yard scoring pitch and catch with 6:43 to play in the second quarter for a tie game. On the ensuing drive, Zimmerman forced a fumble and recovered it to give USF the ball at the WSC’s 25-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, Walters connected with Broadnax who hauled in his third TD of the season from 26 yards as the Cougars led, 14-7, with 5:50 to play. But nearly as quick as USF took the lead, the Wildcats tied it up when Andy McCance completed a 73-yard scoring plan to Mason Lee to knot things up at 14-14 with 4:40 left in the half. After USF forced another fumble on Zimmerman’s sack of McCance with 30 seconds left in the half, Esparza gave USF a 17-14 lead when his 21-yard field goal on the last play of the half was true. On the drive, Walters completed a 15-yard pass to Reisdorfer and a 23-yarder to senior tight end Kyle Barnetche to set up a first and goal at the three yard line.
USF built a 24-14 advantage on their first drive of the second half. The Cougars, which moved the ball 74 yards in nine plays and took 4:41 of the clock, added to their lead when Reisdorfer hauled in a 28-yard scoring pass from Walters.
Once again, WSC used the big play to get back into the game. First, Taurean Grady caught a 37-yard pass from McCance, who completed 8-of-17 passes for 159 yards and two TDs. Then, he hauled in a TD pass from six yards on a third down play as the Wildcats cut the lead to 24-21 with 5:51 to play.
However, that would be WSC’s last hurrah. USF closed the game with 17 straight points. First Johnson culminated an 80-yard, 16-play drive that used 9:16 of the clock by catching a 10-yard TD strike from Walters as the Cougars lead grew to 31-21. After another WSC turned the ball over on the ensuing kickoff as Darrion Conrad recovered the loose ball, Esparza’s 19-yard field goal helped USF to 34-21 lead.
On a third and six play on the ensuing WSC drive, Harvey (Michael) Enalls picked off McCance and returned the ball nine yards to the WSC’s 14-yard line. From there, USF scored four plays later as Walters tied a school record with his fifth TD throw, connecting with Collier on a four-yard strike.
With the conversion, USF took a 41-21 lead and proceeded to shut down WSC and run out the clock as the Cougars earned their eighth win or more for the sixth time in the program’s NCAA DII era.
-Recap courtesy USF Athletics