MACOMB, Ill. | South Dakota held off a furious rally by Western Illinois to remain unbeaten, 38-33, here Saturday and moved to 4-0 for the first time since the 2006 football season.
Moreover, the Coyotes are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2012.
No. 10 South Dakota had a 38-6 lead on No. 16 Western Illinois with 5:44 left in the third quarter before the Leathernecks scored four unanswered touchdowns. Three of those were by senior wide receiver Jaelon Acklin, who had a record-setting performance with 19 receptions for 343 yards.
The game wasn’t decided until Danny Rambo intercepted a Sean McGuire pass with 30 seconds left in the game after Western Illinois held the Coyotes on downs at the WIU 34.
South Dakota got off to another torrid start, storming to a 24-6 halftime lead. The Coyotes drove 75 yards on their first possession of the game and scored on a 6-yard pass from Chris Streveler to Alonge Brooks.
Ryan Weese kicked a 23-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to make it 10-0 but the Leathernecks answered on a 17-yard McGuire scoring pass to Tony Harper on their opening possession of the quarter.
USD made a defensive stand on fourth down with 4:22 remaining and quickly took advantage. Brandt Van Roekel made an outstanding grab on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Streveler at the 2:58 mark.
Van Roekel, a senior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, hadn’t played since being injured early in the season opener against Drake.
The Coyotes used excellent time management near the end of the first half, letting the clock run down while closing in on another score. With 1.8 seconds remaining Streveler calmly flipped a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Josh Hale.
After a shanked punt, USD took over on the WIU 43 early in the third quarter and converted a key fourth-down play before Streveler scored on a 3-yard run at the 9:10, making it 31-6.
The final USD touchdown came with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter when guard Stetson Dagel pounced on a loose ball in the end zone. The Coyotes also fumbled earlier in the 57-yard march but recovered.
Western Illinois answered quickly on a 62-yard strike from McGuire to Acklin and momentum totally shifted in the Leathernecks’ direction when Steve McShane returned a punt 77 yards and eventually scored on a 1-yard run.
Acklin hauled in two more scoring passes, the second a 41-yarder as part of a 97-yard drive, pulling Western Illinois to within 38-33 with 2:11 left in the game. Adam Harris batted away a two-point conversion pass attempt and then Philip Powell recovered an onside kick, but the Leathernecks got one more chance.
McGuire torched the USD defense for 441 passing yards, but his final throw was intercepted by Rambo, who had to leave the game earlier and undero concussion protocol before re-entering.
USD’s Streveler was 19-for-32 for 328 yards and three touchdows and rushed for 89 yards on 24 carries. Van Roekel hauled in six catches for 119 yards and Rambo collected a team-high eight tackles to go along with the game-saving interception.
This was USD’s first win in six tries against Western Illinois since joining the MVFC and its first victory here since 1977. Second-year USD Coach Bob Nielson coached three seasons at Western Illinois before taking over in Vermillion.
Western Illinois rallied from a 31-14 halftime deficit to win on a touchdown with 32 seconds left last season at the DakotaDome.
South Dakota hosts fifth-ranked Youngstown State at 2 p.m. Saturday.