CARBONDALE, Ill. - South Dakota's passing game awoke in the second half to erase a 17-10 deficit, scoring 21 unanswered points on its way to giving Coach Bob Nielson his 200th career coaching win, 31-24 over Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley Conference football game Saturday evening.
USD struggled to move the ball in the first half, punting eight times. Meanwhile, quarterback Austin Simmons was sacked three times but things were far different after the halftime breather.
The third quarter turned into a aerial circus for USD as Simmons passed for 219 yards in the frame alone. Simmons found Randy Baker twice and Dakarai Allen once for touchdowns and a 31-17 lead.
Southern Illinois had success of its own in the passing game early to erase a fast USD start. The Coyotes went up 7-0 on a one-yard run by Kai Henry just over three minutes into the game but the lead wouldn't last long.
SIU's Nigel Kilby caught a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter to help Southern Illinois offset the early USD score and take a 14-7 lead. Kilby had seven catches for 109 yards before the break but was held without a reception in the second half.
USD appeared poised to tie the game before half when Simmons hit Allen on a 40-yard pass that set up the Coyotes first and goal at the SIU 5. Three ensuing plays gained no yardage and the Coyotes had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Mason Lorber to pull within 14-10 two minutes before the end of the half. The Salukis answered with a drive of their own and hit a short field goal on the last play of the half to lead 17-10.
After stopping the Salukis on their first possession of the second half, the Coyotes tied things up, marching 70 yards in 11 plays before scoring on nine-yard pass from Simmons to Randy Baker that was hauled in just inside the back of the end zone.
Baker was on the receiving end of the go-ahead score the next time the Coyotes had the ball, capping a quick two play drive with a 45-yard TD catch. USD started the drive inside its own 5 after a Saluki punt but Allen hauled in another long pass from Simmons for 38 yards to get USD out of the shadow of its own goal. An SIU pass interference penalty moved the ball past midfield before Simmons found Baker a 24-17 USD lead.
Andrew Gray picked off a SIU pass at the USD 11 yard line and again the Coyotes cashed in quickly, scoring on the second play after the interception on a Simmons pass to Allen.
USD stopped a Saluki drive that reached inside its 10-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and picked up a South Illinois fumble with under five minutes left. SIU came through with a one-yard run by Jevon Williams with 1:00 left in the game but USD was able to recover an onside kick and run out the clock.
Now 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the MVC, USD returns home next Saturday to host Missouri State.