#5 South Dakota State Rallies to Beat South Dakota, Finishes Regular Season at Western Illinois
In the eight seasons South Dakota State has been a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, there are two things the Jackrabbits have never done - capture a first round bye in the FCS Playoffs, and lose to Western Illinois.
One of those streaks will end Saturday in Macomb.
To get to that game, SDSU continued their winning ways against South Dakota with a 30-25 victory in Vermillion last weekend. The win was a record seventh straight over the Coyotes in a series that dates back to 1889.
USD did do something they hadn't accomplished in their six previous meetings with the Jackrabbits - score a first half touchdown. It happened when the Coyote offense took advantage of a short SDSU punt and went 40-yards in one play - Ryan Saeger to Brandt Van Roekel for a 7-0 lead.
After a Jacks field goal cut it to 7-3, and a missed USD field goal, SDSU used the arm and legs of starting quarterback Taryn Christion to take the lead early in the second quarter. On the third play of the drive, Christion hit Jake Wieneke for 45 yards. Then two plays later, Christion covered the remaining 10 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 halftime lead.
The third quarter belonged to USD, as the Coyotes took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in ten plays, retaking the lead on a Saeger 1-yard touchdown run.
The South Dakota advantage grew to 10 points later in the third on the strength of 50 and 45-yard field goals from Miles Bergner.
Right before the end of the third, the SDSU offense made a big change, benching Christion for Zach Lujan at quarterback, and the junior responded with a pair of touchdown drives over the next ten minutes to give the Jackrabbits a 24-20 lead.
Three plays later the South Dakota State defense provided some additional cushion when Nick Farina grabbed a tipped pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.
The SDSU defense withstood two more USD drives into Jackrabbit territory, allowing a field goal and thwarting a hail-Mary attempt in the final seconds of the game.
Saturday is the regular season finale, and for the third time in the last four weeks, South Dakota State is on the road.
The Jackrabbits (8-2/5-2) take on a Western Illinois team that wasn't expected to do much this season, bu then got off to a red hot start, before coming back to earth the last month.
The Leathernecks (5-5/4-3) have the toughest schedule in FCS this year, and it kicked in after WIU got off to a surprising 3-0 start in MVC play.
In consecutive weeks, the Leathernecks lost to #3 Illinois State, #24 Youngstown State, and #5 North Dakota by a combined score of 130-56.
WIU appeared headed to a fourth straight defeat last weekend against Indiana State, with backup quarterback Sean McGuire pressed into emergency service after starter Trenton Norvell went down with appendicitis. But McGuire helped rally the Leathernecks from a 17-point third quarter deficit to force overtime, where Western pulled out a 37-30 win.
McGuire was impressive in his first career start, going 29-of-44 for 332 yards and a touchdown, earning him league Newcomer of the Week and STATS National Freshman of the Week honors.
He got a ton of support on the ground from running back Nikko Watson, who ran for a pair of second half scores and the game winning in the extra period. Watson, the second leading rusher in the MVC, finished the day with 153 yards rushing.
The Jackrabbits are preparing for an up tempo attack on offense, where McGuire is expected to make his second straight start. SDSU will not only have to focus on stopping Watson on the ground, but will also have their hands full with wide receiver Lance Lenoir, who leads the MVC in catches and is number three in the conference in yards per game.
Defensively, the Leathernecks are very young, starting eight underclassman. One of those up and coming players is middle linebacker Brett Taylor. The sophomore is the fourth leading tackler in the MVC and ranks 13th nationally, with 11 tackles per game. Taylor is also 2nd in the FCS with three fumble recoveries on the season.
Kickoff is 1:00 PM Saturday, in Macomb, Illinois.
Here is my interview with SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier on the South Dakota win and the match-up with Western Illinois Saturday afternoon: