VERMILLION, S.D. |Make no mistake about it, University of South Dakota football has risen to a new level.
From an unranked team at the beginning of the season, the Coyotes had climbed all the way to No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision poll heading into a Dakota Days showdown with No. 3 Youngstown State on Saturday.
And, adding yet another notch to an already impressive 2017 resume, USD conquered the visiting Penguins of Coach Bo Pelini, 31-28 when Ryan Weese kicked a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining, sending a sellout crowd of 10,056 at the DakotaDome into a frenzy.
It was the third consecutive win for the Coyotes, now 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, over a top 20 team. Moreover, it was their first win over Youngstown State in six tries.
“That was a character win for our football team, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys for the way that they battled,” USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “That’s a really good football team that we beat. Our guys played hard from the opening kickoff to the final play. That is what you have to do to beat a team of that caliber.”
Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1) was the national runner-up last season and was coming off a 19-7 win over previously unbeaten South Dakota State last week.
The defense helped put the Coyotes in position for the landmark win by knocking the Penguins backward after a Brady Schutt punt pinned them at their own 12 with 2:20 left and the game tied 28-28.
Youngstown State ended up punting from the 5-yard line and the Coyotes took over at their own 47 with 1:24 remaining. A 12-yard pass from Chris Streveler to Shamar Jackson – who had a record-setting day – pushed the ball into YSU territory and then Streveler scrambled and hit Alonge Brooks for eight yards to the 33.
Two plays later, Brandt Van Roekel outdueled a Penguin defender for an 18-yard reception at the 16. Streveler ran to the middle of the field before being tackled at the 12-yard line and spiked the ball with 11 ticks left, setting up Weese for the game winner.
“Honestly it went by so fast that I didn’t have time to think about it,” Weese said. “We practice that a lot and the offense did a great job of getting me into position and I didn’t really think about it too much.
“It was an exciting feeling. My whole college career (Weese is a graduate transfer from Kansas) and now finally getting the opportunity here and making the most of it really meant a lot to me.”
Youngstown State got the ball back bad had time for just two plays and Taylor Lambert sacked quarterback Nathan Mays on the final play. The Coyotes totaled six sacks, two each by Dakota Valley High School product Lambert and Darin Greenfield from Sheldon, Iowa.
“That all starts with the play calls and the position the coaches put us in,” Greenfield said. “It let us get in his face a lot and even if we weren’t getting home we were altering his throw, getting in his head knowing he had to get it off because time was getting shorter.”
Streveler completed 21 of 35 passes in the back-and-forth contest for 360 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson, a sophomore, tied a school record with 11 receptions and set a new mark with 229 yards, eclipsing the old record of 205 yards by Dwight Duncombe in 1972. Jackson caught a 71-yard touchdown pass on USD’s first play of the second half, giving it a 28-14 advantage.
The Coyotes gained 283 of their 486 yards in the first half against a talented Youngstown State defense, taking a 21-14 halftime lead.
Youngstown drove 86 yards in eight plays on its opening possession of the game, but the Coyotes tied it on a 15-yard pass from Streveler to Randy Baker. A 53-yarder to Jackson set up the scoring play.
Jackson also caught a 13-yard pass on 3rd and 7 early in the third quarter that extended a drive that ended with a 1-yard Kai Henry touchdown run at the 8:04 mark, making it 14-7.
The Penguins, though, quickly answered, tying it at 14-14 on a 3-yard run by Tevin McCaster, who scored all four of his team’s touchdowns, with 4:38 left in the half.
USD’s third straight touchdown drive went 75 yards in 10 plays. Baker, who had just two catches this season, hauled in a 25-yarder on 2nd-and-22 and Van Roekel, a senior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, made an leaping grab of a 22-yard aerial in the corner of the end with wo minutes remaining.
Youngstown State pulled within 28-21 on an 11-yard scoring run by McCaster late in the third quarter and tied it when he scooted in from the 3-yard line with 3:49 left in the game.
“We got a chance to go down there and win the game and that’s all you can ask for,” Streveler said. “We knew it was going to be back-and-forth all day. That’s a great football team and we were lucky we were able to make enough plays on that drive and have Ryan finish it off with the kick.”
Streveler’s 360 yards passing are the second-most in his collegiate career and he has now accounted for 20 touchdowns and no turnovers in five games.
The Coyotes stay home to face Indiana State at 2 o’clock Saturday.