VERMILLION, S.D. | Despite a resounding bounce back effort last Saturday that got the South Dakota Coyotes back on track following their first loss of the football season, there was still a hint of uneasiness throughout the weekend.
That all changed, however, when standout quarterback Chris Streveler trotted out for practice on Monday.
Streveler, a national player of the year candidate who has done everything imaginable to ignite USD’s up-tempo offense, left Saturday’s 42-0 win over Southern Illinois on the first series of the game with a shoulder injury.
It didn’t look good when Streveler crumpled to the turf after trying to run off the field and medical personnel attended to him for several minutes. Coyote Nation, though, probably breathed a little easier when No. 15 came out with the team at halftime and started throwing warmup passes.
He never returned and Austin Simmons did an outstanding job in his place, throwing a couple of touchdown passes to keep USD in the race for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title and a postseason playoff berth.
But with a daunting three games left in the regular season, beginning on Saturday at Northern Iowa, USD certainly would have felt much more confident with its best player at the controls.
“He practiced yesterday,” a relieved South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said in an interview on Tuesday. “He continues to improve and at this point we’d be confident that he will be able to play on Saturday.”
Streveler, by the way, has accounted for 27 touchdowns and just two turnovers and is closing in on several single-season school records.
The Coyotes, ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision, overcame adversity to improve their record to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the MVFC. Not only were they without Streveler for much of the game, but defensive backs Danny Rambo, Dale Williamson and Adam Harris were suspended from the team indefinitely .
Rambo and Williamson were subsequently arrested on rape charges, but Harris has not been charged with a crime. With the absence of three of their top four defensive backs, the Coyotes will again have to play through adversity Saturday in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“Defensively, coming off the performance we had the week before (37-21 loss at Illinois State) I know our guys were disappointed,” Nielson said. “We had to have some guys step up and I felt they did that and played the kind of defense that we feel like we’re capable of playing. It was good to see us force some turnovers which was something that we had done as well the last few weeks.
“Our guys have a great challenge again this week at Northern Iowa. They need to be a week better and execute at a really high level.”
South Dakota forced five turnovers and returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Southern Illinois.
UNI, at 4-4 and 3-2, is still entertaining playoff hopes. The Panthers registered back-to-back victories over then- No. 7 South Dakota State and then-No. 9 Youngstown State before a 30-14 loss at No. 2 North Dakota State last week.
“They’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country and I know Coach (Mark) Farley very well, we go back a long ways,” Nielson said. “They feature some outstanding personnel and we’ll get their best and better be prepared to play our best football as well.”
Eli Dunne has passed for 1,908 yards and 18 touchdowns and UNI has averaged 156 rushing yards in its four wins.
“That makes them a very difficult offensive unit to prepare for,” Nielson said. “They’ve had some of the best defensive personnel in the conference. Their defensive front is very physical and talented and one of the things we have to do is find a way to have some balance in our offense like we did last week in comparison to two weeks ago against Illinois State.”
Although they’ve reached seven wins, the most since 2005 when the team finished with a 9-2 mark, getting an eighth would almost certainly cement a postseason berth.
“Every game is important and our guys understand that over the last three weeks the games that we have, starting this week at Northern Iowa, are going to go a long ways in terms of defining the finish on the year,” Nielson said. “The fact that we have to go on the road, that’s where teams in our league separate themselves and get to the playoffs. That’s going to be something we need to do this week.”
The Coyotes play at North Dakota State next week before ending the regular season at home against South Dakota State.