Coyotes roll in opener

Win No. 500 played out like so many others in recent memory.

Thanks to a potent passing attack and a swarming defense, the University of South Dakota football team opened the 2009 season with a 52-0 shutout of NAIA William Penn on Thursday night in the DakotaDome.

Playing its 1,000th all-time football contest, USD also claimed the 500th win in program history.

In beating their over-matched visitors, the Coyotes rolled up 506 yards of total offense, including 249 passing yards and four touchdowns from record-setting quarterback Noah Shepard.

Still, the senior said USD's offensive groove – which has become a staple over the last six seasons – took some time to develop.

"We maybe had some first-game jitters," said Shepard, who connected on 15-of-23 passes. "I know I had them, which is weird.

"I think it was just all the work we put in over the summer, and finally getting out there on the field."

Once those early jitters subsided, it was back to reality.

Following a pair of punts in two of its first three drives of the game, the Coyote offense found its big-play potential late in the opening quarter.

With two minutes left in the first quarter, Shepard found wide receiver Dan Skelly for a 53-yard completion, which saw the senior break a tackle down field for the touchdown.

The score pushed USD ahead 10-0, after new No. 1 kicker Dusty Nowotny connected on a 27-yard field goal. The sophomore receiver earned kicking duties this week and was a perfect 4-for-4 on Thursday – including three extra points.

From there, the Coyote defense continued to fly around the field and make life even more uncomfortable for the visitors from Oskaloosa, IA.

"Our main focus was to just keep pounding it," said USD senior defensive lineman Ko Quaye, who recorded seven tackles. "We got all the technical stuff out of the way, now it's just time to make plays."

That mantra carried over to the second quarter, when USD's Cory Kuehl blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Shepard would throw two more touchdowns before halftime, the first to Nowotny (35 yards) and tight end London Landry (11 yards).

And on the other side, the Statesmen (0-2) couldn't muster anything productive against the physical USD defense, which held William Penn to a total of six passing yards in the first half.

"We got what we needed out of it," USD head coach Ed Meierkort said. "We got a lot reps for our first units, and some good time for our seconds.

"I give them (William Penn) a lot of credit," he added. They're not as gifted as we are, but they play hard. They'll do well this season."

Early in the third quarter, Shepard and the Coyotes picked up where they left off.

The 6-foot-2 quarterback found Skelly again, this time for an in-stride 51-yard touchdown, giving USD a 38-0 cushion.

Six minutes later, the Statesmen would miss a 27-yard field goal – the team's first legitimate shot at putting points on the scoreboard.

"We came in just hoping to execute," Nowotny said. "You just want to step up your game against a team like this, and be effective.

"We started off slow, but once we got into the flow, we rolled.

In the fourth quarter, Shepard and back-up quarterback Dante Warren each rushed for a touchdown, pushing the eventual margin to 52-0 in favor of the home team.

In the win, the Coyotes rushed for 197 yards, led by Isaac Newton's 89-yard effort.

"Once we get our run game going, we get more confidence," Meierkort said.

The bigger story was the 70-yard rushing performance of sophomore Chris Ganious, who was dealing with the loss of his father, who passed away Monday.

"Hasn't missed a day of class or a practice all week," Meierkort said. "That's a heroic effort right there. Our hearts go out to him."

Added Shepard, "We all rallied around him. It shows you how mentally strong he is."

Defensively, USD limited William Penn to 147 yards of total offense, including 67 yards on the ground.

The key to preparing for the Statesmen, Shepard said, was to stick with the basics, yet also developing momentum for a Sept. 12 showdown at Northern Iowa.

"Our playbook was cut down this week," Shepard said. "We didn't want to get too complicated; just wanted to execute. It's definitely something we can build on for next week."

The Coyotes return to action Sept. 12 at 4:05 p.m. in Cedar Falls, IA, against Northern Iowa, the fourth-ranked team in Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

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