VERMILLION, S.D. — South Dakota’s three-game football losing streak ended in dominating fashion here Saturday.
The Coyotes thrashed Youngstown State 56-21 on Military Appreciation Day at the DakotaDome, ending what were already faint playoff hopes for Youngstown State.
Moreover, Youngstown State Coach Bo Pelini – the former head coach at Nebraska – was denied his 100th career victory.
USD was impressive on both sides of the football, especially on offense where it seemingly scored at will on the Penguins.
And, the defense shut down a fairly potent rushing game, limiting Youngstown State to just 66 yards on 37 carries. The Coyotes also recorded six sacks.
“I'm going to start by saying how proud I am of our guys and our staff," said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “We haven't played the kind of football that I felt we were capable of playing, and we've had some things that you'd like to do over, and you don't get that opportunity in football.
“It would have been pretty easy for our guys to just say ‘Hey, it's not our year.’ But our staff did a good job putting the game plan together, and our kids really responded and that was a really good win today against a good football team.”
Kai Henry became the first Coyote to eclipse 100 rushing yards in three straight games since 2007, finishing with 130 yards on 13 carries. USD gouged the Penguins for 327 yards on the ground as Canaan Brooks added 112 yards on 11 totes for his first collegiate 100-yard performance.
“It started with the big boys up front,” Henry said. “They just manhandled them in the trenches. I have to give all the props to them.”
Henry had a pair of touchdown runs and Brooks one, while Austin Simmons continued to move up the school’s passing charts and also ran for a touchdown.
Simmons completed 13 of 21 for 180 and four touchdowns. The senior from Council Bluffs, Iowa, moved into third place on USD’s all-time list with 6,162 yards, passing All-American Chris Streveler, and with two more games remaining, should finish his career in second place.
“I think it was a really great team effort,” Simmons said. “As a whole offensive unit starting off we were clicking, the O-line was doing a great job blocking and receivers blocking downfield and the running backs were finding those holes and making it happen. It kind of makes it easier on a quarterback when all those guys are doing such a great job out there.”
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Instead of coming into the game hanging their heads, the Coyotes played with plenty of spirit and heart, scoring on five of their first six possessions.
USD (4-6, 3-3 MVFC) set the tone early, running 25 plays for 307 yards in the first quarter, including 183 on the ground. It took a 28-7 lead on an 8-yard pass from Simmons to Brett Samson on the first play of the second quarter, capping the fourth consecutive touchdown drive of 75 yards or more to start the game.
By halftime, USD had a 35-14 lead and tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter.
Simmons had scoring passes to Connor Hermann (13 yards), true freshman Carter Bell (15), Samson (6) and Dakarai Allen (28).
South Dakota hadn’t won since Oct. 12 at Missouri State, which at the time stretched a winning streak to three games. It sandwiched road losses at UNI and Western Illinois around a disappointing home setback to Southern Illinois.
“I believed it was going to come, but we just had to keep our head down and stay working,” senior co-captain DeValon Whitcomb said. “We’ve seen it in every game we’ve played that any given time a play can go for us or it can go the other way. We just had to stay consistent and keep working hard.”
Whitcomb recorded two of the six sacks. Jack Cochrane continued his stellar play at linebacker, recording a team-high seven tackles and one of 12 USD tackles for loss.
Youngstown State was playing without its starting quarterback but was expected to be able to run the football. However, the Penguins, who entered the game as the 22nd-ranked rushing team in the nation at 204 yards per game, were stymied by the USD defense.
“Obviously they were playing with their second quarterback, but he’s played a lot,” Nielson said. “The game plan going in was we were going to commit to stopping the run and force them to try and throw the football. They got into a situation where they had to throw the ball in the second half because of the lead and that’s not what they wanted to do.”
Youngstown State pulled within 28-14 on a 9-yard pass from Joe Craycraft to Jeremiah Braswell with 10:34 left in the half. The Penguins then forced a punt, but the perfectly placed boot by Brady Schutt bounced off a Youngstown player and USD’s Randy Baker recovered at the YSU 2-yard line. Henry’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 35-14.
Brooks had a 14-yard touchdown run and Henry another short plunge from a yard out in the third quarter.
The win should give South Dakota some needed momentum heading into a game against top-ranked and defending FCS national champion North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D., next Saturday.
Youngstown State slipped to a disappointing 1-5 in the league and 5-5 overall.