VERMILLION, S.D. | There’s never a good time to play North Dakota State, but South Dakota may find it especially tough when it invades the Fargodome on Saturday.
The Bison suffered their first loss, 33-21, at South Dakota State last week after eight straight wins to start the season.
Add that to the fact that USD is coming off a 34-29 setback at Northern Iowa in a game that missed opportunities and turnovers were crucial.
“We made critical mistakes at the wrong time and of course that’s part of the game of football,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “We had a chance to take care of the football at the end and couldn’t get it done and obviously you look at some other opportunities earlier in the game where we could have put a few more points on the board that would have not put us in that position.”
The Coyotes settled for three Ryan Weese field goals in the first half and had a red zone trip in the fourth quarter result in an interception in the end zone. USD came into the UNI game with 46 touchdowns against just three field goals, an 82-percent scoring rate in the red zone.
The missed opportunities hurt and so did four turnovers that resulted in 17 Northern Iowa points.
“You can’t turn the ball over deep in your own territory and we did that three times,” Nielson said. “Those turnovers resulted in UNI points and defense made it pretty easy to score them and provided what might have been the opportunity to win the game and took advantage of it.”
South Dakota took a 23-13 lead on a Brett Samson touchdown run late in the third quarter, but didn’t score on its next six possessions. The Coyotes were still up 23-20 with nine minutes left in the game and had the ball at the UNI 4-yard line before a Chris Streveler pass was intercepted in the end zone.
The Panthers turned a Kai Henry fumble deep in USD territory into the go-ahead touchdown and returned an interception for a touchdown in the final two minutes.
Sixth-ranked North Dakota State (8-1, 5-1) has a one-game lead in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings over No. 10 USD, No. 5 South Dakota State, No. 20 Illinois State and Northern Iowa.
South Dakota (7-2, 4-2) hosts South Dakota State (7-2, 4-2) in a regular season finale next week. Then it’s up to the FCS playoff committee to decide how many MVFC teams make the postseason.
“We’re not going to be able to get the Northern Iowa game back but now we get an opportunity to play in a game that’s going to have tremendous meaning for the conference championship this week,” Nielson said. “The only way we can get back on track is to play our very best football and somehow find a way to win.
“They’re a lot like us, they felt like they didn’t play the way they were capable of playing last week, the turnover bug bit them as well. They’ll get that cleaned up just like we’ll get that cleaned up.”
It’s South Dakota’s first trip to Fargo since a stunning 24-21 victory snapped a 26-game Bison home winning streak two seasons ago. The Coyotes beat a Carson Wentz-led team on a last-second field goal by Miles Bergner.