VERMILLION, S.D. | As impressive as South Dakota’s offense was in Saturday’s home football opener at the DakotaDome, the defense was equally as spectacular.
Billed as a premier matchup of Football Championship Subdivision top-25 teams, it turned into a one-sided affair that most of the 9,645 people on hand enjoyed.
No. 23 South Dakota dominated 10th-ranked North Dakota 45-7, outplaying the Fighting Hawks in every facet. The Coyotes, who most certainly will climb in the national ratings this week, improved their record to 3-0 for the first time since the 2006 season.
“I want to congratulate our staff and our team,” USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “Our staff put together really good plans on both sides of the football today and our guys went out there and executed it. We played with a lot of confidence and enthusiasm and it’s great to be home.
“It’s not often as a coach you actually feel crowd energy but when I walked out onto the field today I could feel it with our guys. It was great to have that kind of tremendous fan support and obviously they saw a good team today.”
The Coyotes scored on five of their first seven possessions, piling up over 400 yards en route to a 31-0 lead on the shellshocked Fighting Hawks at halftime.
Chris Streveler, the reigning FCS National Player of the Week, had another dynamite performance, passing for 290 yards and rushing for 62 while accounting for three touchdowns. Streveler completed 17 of 24 in the first-half flurry, including a 68-yarder to Shamar Jackson that set up his own 7-yard touchdown run and a 13-yard scoring flip to Jackson with 10 seconds remaining in the half.
“Obviously getting off to a good start is something that’s important to us,” Streveler said. “They came out and did some stuff that they did against us last year and I give the coaches credit for coming up with a really good game plan if we were going to get some of those looks. The play calling was great, we were able to exploit some of the stuff they were doing.
“That was huge for getting a good start. After that, I felt like last year when we would get big starts we would just go three-and-out and this year, although we didn’t get many scores after the first half, we were able to get some first downs and hold on to the ball a little longer.”
North Dakota rallied from a 20-point deficit late in the third quarter to force overtime and eventually win 47-44 over USD in double overtime last season at Grand Forks, North Dakota.
A lot of that had to do with the fact that the Fighting Hawks rushed for 214 yards, exploiting the USD defense with talented backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira. The Coyotes held North Dakota to 47 rushing yards in the first half and 102 for the game.
“Our game plan was outstanding and we have to credit the coaches because they put us in the right spots every play,” said defensive end Darin Greenfield, a sophomore from Sheldon who had three tackles for losses. “We don’t want to rely on our offense to put up points, we want to be able to stop them so that if our offense is having a down game we’re going to try and keep that goose egg as long as possible. It is relentless effort every play.”
From the opening kickoff, it was apparent that the offense was operating just as it had in victories over Drake and Bowling Green on the road. USD drove 82 yards on its first possession, taking a 3-0 lead on a 21-yard field goal by Ryan Weese.
Freshman Kai Henry, who had a career-high 80 yards on 12 carries, capped the second drive with an 8-yard touchdown run and Streveler’s first TD run made it 17-0. Henry busted through the line for a 34-yard scoring jaunt with 8:59 left in the second quarter.
“It starts with the line and Chris Streveler,” Henry said. “Besides my coaches, Chris coaches me up and puts me in good places to get it done.”
Henry was one of four backs to record double-digit carries. Streveler ran 15 times while Ben Klett (68 yards) and Michael Fredrick (47 yards) had 14 totes apiece.
“I thought Mike Fredrick ran hard and in addition to Kai you finally saw what Ben Klett is capable of doing today,” Nielson said. “The depth that we have at that position group, they all had significant yards and the same number of carries and we’ll continue to use all three of those guys.”
The defense stopped North Dakota four times on fourth down, including at the USD 44 late in the first half. From there Streveler worked the clock to perfection and found Jackson wide open in the end zone to make it 31-0.
South Dakota went 66 yards on 10 plays on its first possession of the second half, making it 38-0 on a 14-yard quarterback draw by Streveler. In the fourth quarter, the Coyotes ran the ball 14 straight times on a 64-yard drive that used up nearly 10 minutes off the clock and was capped by a 7-yard Klett touchdown.
North Dakota (1-2) got a game-high 85 rushing yards from Santiago but Oliveira, who had combined for 179 yards in his first two games, was limited to nine yards on four carries. Keaton Studsrud completed 11 of 22 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown.
“This is one of those games you really have to learn from,” North Dakota Coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We can’t just flush this one away. Early on, it was penalties that cost us. We had third-and-two and third-and-three that turned into third-and-long situations. You can’t do that.
“Then we couldn’t stop their run game. We had chances to get them off the field and could not come up with a stop. That was the most disappointing part of it.”
South Dakota is idle next week before opening Missouri Valley Football Conference play Sept. 30 at Western Illinois.