VERMILLION, S.D. -- Ben Klett made the most of his first collegiate start Saturday and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the South Dakota Coyotes.
Klett, a 6-1, 235-pound sophomore, rushed for a career-high 96 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Coyotes outscore Missouri State 35-28 on Dakota Days.
When it became obvious that the Lake Zurich, Illinois, product was going to get most of the carries, he responded by powering his way through the Missouri State defense.
Klett opened the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run and added scoring plays of 19 and 2 yards as South Dakota improved to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“I thought Ben had played really well over the opening weeks,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “We had been rolling three guys and decided that he deserved the opportunity to start and he took advantage of that opportunity.
“He runs hard and is physical, obviously a different kind of back, when you have a guy that weighs 230 pounds and still runs pretty well. Ben has gotten a lot better over the last year, he’s much more assignment sound and did what he needed to in the off-season.”
Nielson said Kai Henry, the normal starter and the team’s leading rusher, was unable to play because of injury. That opened the door for Klett, sophomore Brandon Thull and true freshman Canaan Brooks, who combined for 176 yards, the most by the Coyotes in a game this season.
“It was my first time starting so I knew I had to do my part,” Klett said. “I knew I had to perform above what I could normally do. Credit to the line because without those holes I wouldn’t have gotten the yards that I got. They definitely stepped up and did a great job.”
Heading into the contest, Klett wasn’t completely sure he was going to be the starting running back. Henry has been bothered with a nagging injury and the decision wasn’t made until just before game time.
“I knew there was a possibility so I really had to make sure I knew what I was doing the entire time,” Klett said.
Thull, a sophomore from Kewaskum, Wisconsin, saw his first collegiate action and carried nine times for 39 yards. Brooks, from St. Louis, Missouri, had six carries.
“Brandon did a good job stepping up,” Klett said. “That big hit that he had was fun to watch. This was his first game. We see him in practice doing really well and that carried over into the game today.”
Both Klett and the 185-pound Thull got most of their yards between the tackles while Brooks (5-11, 205) was utilized more on the perimeter. Thull drew cheers from the sellout crowd of 10,092 on one particular play when he ran over a Bear defender for extra yardage.
USD quarterback Austin Simmons, who passed for 337 and a touchdown, pointed out that Klett is also valuable as a blocker.
“I remember the play you are talking about,” Simmons responded when asked about Klett laying a block on a rushing defender. “He stepped up and made a great block. That’s something he does well.”
One other thing stood out for Nielson, who picked up his 201st victory as a collegiate coach.
“You can tell Ben hasn’t been in many press conferences,” Nielson said. “He’s one of the few guys that brings his helmet to the press conference.”
Nielson said Thull, who hadn’t seen the field because of academic issues, showed some physicality.
“He’s just a guy who needs some more experience,” Nielson said. “He was a very talented high school player who had a very serious knee injury coming out of high school and it took him the better part of a year-and-half to really come back from that. Now he’s back to full speed and able to contribute.”