THIBODAUX, La. | Given a chance to extend their football season, the South Dakota Coyotes responded with the first FCS playoff victory in school history, 38-31 over Nicholls at Guidry Field here Saturday.
The No. 18 Coyotes, along with No. 22 Nicholls the last two at-large playoff selections, secured the win when Phillip Powell forced a fumble that Andrew Gray recovered in the end zone for a touchback with less than a minute remaining.
South Dakota (8-4) advances to a second-round game against sixth-seeded Sam Houston State Saturday at Huntsville, Texas.
I want to tip my cap to Coach Rebowe, his staff and the Nicholls State football team,” USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “It was a great football game and they played really well, they executed really well and, in some ways, I thought we were fortunate to win today. But I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. That game kept swinging back and forth and back and forth momentum wise and our guys kept hanging in there.
“When you play on the road in the playoffs -- and I’ve had the opportunity to do that a fair amount of times in my coaching career -- this was a great crowd that helped them, you have to find ways to win football games and our guys found a way today.”
Nicholls (8-4) had it first-and-goal from the Coyote 1-yard line with time ticking away when Powell stripped the ball from Kyran Irvin. Officials ruled on the field that Irvin was down but after a review, the ruling was changed to a fumble.
All that was left was for USD to go into victory formation to clinch the victory in its first-ever FCS playoff appearance.
“Any time you get in the red zone – and we talked about it as a staff – you can’t turn the ball over in the red zone against a good football team,” Nicholls Coach Tim Rebowe said. “We left some points out there on the board. Still all that and we still had a chance at the end to win the game. Our guys fought, they kept scrapping and kept punching the whole way through. Hats off to them, they are an outstanding team.”
It was an intense contest that included four forced turnovers by the USD defense and a number of key penalties on each team. South Dakota was whistled for 12 infractions for 102 yards.
The Coyotes took a 31-21 lead on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Chris Streveler to Trystn Ducker with 28 seconds left in the third quarter. Nicholls, though, scored on a 1-yard run by Tahj Smith less than two minutes into the fourth and tied it at 31-31 on a 43-yard field goal at the 8:25 mark.
A questionable call on USD for interfering with a punt receiver put Nicholls in good position to drive for the tying field goal. The Colonels were then guilty of a pass interference call on third-and-18, setting up what proved to be the winning touchdown, a 10-yard strike from Streveler to Brandt Van Roekel with 5:57 left in the game.
The Coyotes got a big defensive stop deep in Nicholls territory after a reverse try on the ensuing kickoff backfired. However, Tyler St. Germain boomed a 73-yard punt to completely shift field position.
South Dakota was then forced to punt and it came down to fourth-and-3 from the 4-yard line. Nicholls quarterback Chase Fourcade kept the ball for a first down, although a replay appeared to indicate that he was stopped short. But after a review, the call stood and the Colonels had a golden opportunity to at least tie the game.
That’s when Powell reached in and knocked the ball loose from Irvin and it rolled into the end zone, where Gray pounced on it. After the replay reversed the original call, Irvin was reduced to tears on the sidelines.
“Well, it was a ‘for the game' type of situation,” Powell said. “Coach called a good blitz and I see the ball squirt out of the gap and I came in and make the play.”
Powell said he felt it was a fumble, but still had to wait out the replay with the rest of his teammates.
“I’m just screaming that it’s a fumble,” Powell said. “I saw the ball hit the ground. I knew it was a fumble the whole way.”
Streveler, the recently crowned Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year, passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 34 yards on 12 carries. His 412 total yards let him break the MVFC record for total offense in a single season (4,283 yards).
Two of the scoring passes went to Van Roekel, a senior from Boyden-Hull High School. Van Roekel’s other touchdown pass came on a play when he out jumped a defender for the football and raced the final 20 yards of a 47-yard play.
Van Roekel became the ninth player in USD history with 100 career receptions. He also surpassed 1,500 yards.
Mike Johnson’s interception – the first of three by the Coyotes – set up a 1-yard run by Michael Fredrick for the game’s first touchdown. After Isaac Armstead picked off a pass in the end zone, the Coyotes took advantage of two pass interference calls to go ahead 14-0 on a 20-yard pass from Streveler to Dakarai Allen with 9:19 left in the second quarter.
Austin Dickerson brought back an interception 43 yards to cut the deficit in half, but Ryan Weese booted a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the half, giving USD a 17-7 lead.
While Streveler had a huge passing day, the Coyotes were limited to 74 rushing yards on 28 carries. Nicholls rushed for 232 yards and won the total yardage battle.
Saturday’s foe, Sam Houston State, is 10-1 and boasts the nation’s top offense and last year’s Walter Payton Award winner (FCS top player) in quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe. The Bearkats have gained over 600 yards in a game six times this season.
Briscoe leads the country in passing with 3,893 yards and 37 touchdowns. His average of 353.9 yards per game is also tops in the nation.
Sam Houston State beat Nicholls 66-17 this season.