In one fell swoop, all lingering effects from the previous month were cast aside.
The University of South Dakota football team celebrated a victory for the first time in six weeks, with a 45-21 thrashing of Southern Utah in Great West Conference action on Saturday in the DakotaDome.
Following four consecutive losses over the course of October, USD (4-5) regained its swagger in a hurry.
Thanks to three touchdowns and three turnovers by the defense in the second quarter, the Coyotes took control early and did not let up the rest of the way.
"This is great for our program right now," said senior quarterback Noah Shepard, who passed for 235 yards and a touchdown. "With all the struggles we've had with everything, we needed to get one back."
The key to that goal was a potent ground assault.
A year after rushing for 445 yards against Southern Utah, the Coyotes ran for 334 yards and five touchdowns on Saturday. And for the first time this season, USD had two players – Chris Ganious (170) and Isaac Newton (113) – reach the 100-yard plateau.
"That was our gameplan all week, to run it down their throats," senior guard Luke Nordquist said. "We knew we had to get this one, so we just kept pounding it on the ground."
After neither team scored on its first two possessions of the game, USD manufactured a 12-play, 83-yard drive at the end of the first quarter. With 10 seconds left in the frame, Shepard hit freshman receiver Will Powell for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
The Thunderbirds – coming off a 56-35 rout of UC Davis the week before – responded quickly with a two-play drive. Quarterback Cade Cooper found receiver Tysson Poots for a 65-yard scoring hook-up in the last play of the quarter, tying the game at 7-7.
But then came the second quarter.
At the 10:55 mark, Newton scored on a two-yard go-ahead touchdown run. And after SUU fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Coyotes needed just six plays to score again – this time on a one-yard touchdown run by Shepard, giving USD a 21-7 lead.
Then came an interception by USD's Jim Thompson on the second play of the next drive. Four minutes later, Ganious scampered in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown run, pushing the Coyote lead to 28-7.
One minute later, Thompson struck again, intercepting Cooper at the 1:48 mark. The Coyotes would not score again before halftime, but led 28-7 at the break.
"Those two picks lifted our spirits," USD coach Ed Meierkort said. "We hadn't one since Southeastern Louisiana (Sept. 26); the last time we won. I don't think that's a coincidence."
Two minutes after USD missed a 43-yard field goal, Cooper hit Poots again for a touchdown, this time for 35 yards. And after Mychal Bogan intercepted Cooper, the fourth of the game for the Coyotes, USD connected on a 27-yard field goal by Dustin Nowotny.
That gave the hosts a 31-14 cushion.
Yet, the Thunderbirds were able to respond, thanks to a 70-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass from Cooper to Daryl Brown at the 11:47 mark. Suddenly, the Coyotes were in a position to need a response, themselves.
To do so, USD went back to its run game.
"After the last three weeks, I was thinking, 'Oh lord, here it comes again,'" Meierkort said. "But we got back at it with our power run game."
The Coyotes ran on every play of the ensuing 8-play, 70-drive, which was capped off by a Ganious seven-yard touchdown run. Newton, Ganious and Shepard each touched the ball during the series.
"That was the possession of the game," Shepard said. "It took all the wind out of their sails and helped us get the win."
USD — which had 569 yards of total offense – closed the scoring with a Marcus Sims five-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds to play, sealing an already decided affair.
The victory pushes USD's conference record to 1-2, with one final contest left to play. The Coyotes will travel to Cal Poly (4-5, 1-2) next Saturday in the final game of the season.
"This team could be a lot of records, but we're 4-5," Meierkort said. "With any breaks, who knows where we could be. But I'm proud of the way these guys have played.
"And I know we'll play well next week."
Last season, USD was dealt a 49-22 loss by Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA, in its first league game. But in that game, the Coyotes gave up three quick scores in the first quarter.
"We know we can compete with Cal Poly; it's just a matter of doing it," Nordquist said. "We had some bad breaks in October, but this whole year has been crazy.
"At least we can have a chance to win two in a row before it's all over."