VERMILLION, S.D. | South Dakota State continued its mastery of the South Dakota Coyotes, winning the intrastate clash of college football teams 31-28 at the DakotaDome Saturday.
That's been the outcome now for nine consecutive seasons. But this year's game had a little more meaning for South Dakota, which was fighting for its playoff lives.
The FCS committee will ultimately decide who gets in and announce the results at 10 a.m. Sunday, but the consensus thought after another tight battle between longtime rivals is that both teams will play in the postseason.
No. 5 South Dakota State capped off a magnificent regular season, finishing 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the rugged Missouri Valley Conference. The Jackrabbits were already assured a playoff berth heading into the game, but the win more than likely secured at least a top eight seed and first-round bye.
USD, on the other hand, dropped its third straight and fourth in the last five games after starting the season with six wins. The Coyotes, 7-4 overall and 4-4 in the MVFC, are hoping for an at-large playoff berth.
North Dakota State helped the USD cause by beating Illinois State on Saturday to clinch its seventh consecutive conference title and knock Illinois State (6-5, 4-4) out of the playoffs.
How it pans out remains to be seen, but the Coyotes could either travel for a game next Saturday, play host to a first-round contest or be shut out of the playoffs all together.
“We sure hope so but that's something that's out of our control at this point,” USD quarterback Chris Streveler said. “A win today would have put us in for sure but we sure hope we get a shot. We don't want to be done playing football, we know what we can do as a team and we'd sure love to get a shot at the playoffs.”
Streveler certainly did his part, passing for 286 yards to set the school's single-season record and rushed for 65 yards. The national player of the year candidate has passed for 3,236 yards and passed Wesley Beschorner's 2005 total of 3,049 in the third quarter.
Streveler threw a pair of touchdown passes to Dakarai Allen, giving him 23 for the season, one more than last season. However, his inability to get into the end zone twice from the SDSU 1-yard line in the third quarter loomed large in the outcome.
So did a holding penalty that wiped out a 59-yard run by Streveler in the fourth quarter that would have given the Coyotes first and goal from the SDSU 1.
In short, South Dakota had its chances to end the long losing streak to the Jacks, but couldn't overcome its own miscues.
“We didn't capitalize on some big opportunities on some drives when we were moving the ball and didn't finish again,” Streveler said. “We had a couple of turnovers, the interception at the beginning of the game was big, and in a game like that not being able to capitalize on long drives an turning the ball over it's going to be tough to win.”
The first quarter ended in a 0-0 stalemate but SDSU jumped to a 10-0 lead on a 45-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri, the nephew of former Jackrabbit and longtime NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri, and an 11-yard pass from Taryn Christion to Jake Wieneke set up by a Jordan Brown interception deep in Coyote territory.
Christion completed 23 of 36 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, two of those to Jake Wieneke. The second one was a 68-yard play in which Wienke somehow slipped through a couple of tackles and set sail for the end zone to make it 17-7 shortly after USD's Michael Fredrick raced 69 yards up the middle for a score.
Fredrick, who rushed for a game-high 123 yards on 15 carries, scored with 7:39 left in the first half, pulling the Coyotes within 17-14 at intermission with 17-yard touchdown run..
With the score still 17-14, South Dakota drove 96 yards in 14 plays, moving from its own 10 to the SDSU 1, only to come up empty when Streveler was stuffed twice on running plays. The Coyotes ended up going in front when Streveler hooked up with Allen on a 5-yard toss a couple of plays after a 21-yard pass to Brandt Van Roekel.
The Jackrabbits answered, however, taking 10 plays to move 65 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by Mikey Daniel with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
Streveler's ill-fated 59- yard bolt came early in the fourth quarter. That wound up forcing the Coyotes to try a 42-yard game-tying field goal that sailed wide right. SDSU increased its advantage to 10 points on a 15-yard pass from Christion to Cade Johnson on its next possession.
Showing late life, the Coyotes took just a minute to drive 76 yards and tried an onside kick that bounced past the first wave but was recovered by the Jacks to seal the victory.
“I'm really proud of our football team today,” an emotional USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “It's a crew that's dealt with a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, and I thought they played great today. I thought it was going to be a game where we were going to have to score 30 points to win, and we had chances to do that.
“Chris Streveler, if there's a guy that's a better player in college football, I haven't seen him. "He didn't practice all week. The reason why he was wearing gloves is because his throwing hand is so swollen, he can't even hang onto the football right now. And look what he did. He's been such a tremendous leader for us.”
SDSU All-American tight end Dallas Goedert had 11 catches for 117 yards, including a one-handed grab that surely made the television highlight reels.