Warren: ‘It felt like a dream’

Easily the biggest win in program history came in the unlikeliest of places.

And in the unlikeliest of fashions.

In a result that put the college football world on notice, the University of South Dakota used a huge game from Dante Warren to upset Minnesota 41-38 on Saturday for a program-defining win at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.

Not only did the FCS Coyotes win, but they dominated the FBS Gophers in a way not many teams have lately.

"I'm so excited for our university, for our team, our staff; coming in here and beating the Gophers, are you kidding me?" said USD head coach Ed Meierkort, who notched his 100th career win.

"It was a great day in Coyote football history."
Thanks in large part to a career game from their junior quarterback.

Warren, making his just his second start ever, seemingly did whatever he wanted against the Gopher defense. The Arlington Heights, IL, native passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for 81 yards and two scores.

The performance even had some Minneapolis radio hosts joking that he vaulted himself into Heisman Trophy discussion.

"It's completely surreal; I couldn't believe it was real," Warren said before exiting the building to a waiting throng of Coyote fans. "It felt like a dream."

If that was the case, the dream started early for USD (1-1).

Minnesota returned the opening kickoff 44 yards and marched down the field, only to be stopped on third down. A 27-yard field goal gave the announced crowd of nearly 50,000 an early reason to cheer.

Following punts by each team, the Coyotes used one play – a 36-yard pass from Warren to junior Dusty Nowotny – to get within sight of the end zone. Chris Ganious punched in the next play for a 1-yard touchdown, giving USD a lead it would never surrender.

"As soon as our defense got the stop in the red zone for a field goal, and we came out and scored, that's when we knew," Warren said. "That's when we knew we could win this."

What followed was a complete domination by the FCS visitors, despite the fact that Minnesota out-gained USD in total offense 462-444 and had the deficit down to three points twice – the latest after a touchdown with 3:21 to play.

To the Gophers, it didn't matter.

"The depth of my disappointment, you can't measure it," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "I don't want to discredit South Dakota in any way, but certainly it's an unacceptable loss.

"I just didn't get the job done."

Neither did his defense, which allowed the most points by an opponent at TCF Bank Stadium since it opened last year.

After the Gophers turned the ball over on downs, the Coyotes capped a 9-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown strike from Warren to sophomore Will Powell.

Meierkort said later the one time his defense didn't "meet the immediate challenge" was when Minnesota burned USD for a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adam Weber to Troy Stoudermire midway through the second quarter.

But that's where the resiliency of the Coyotes played a key role.

USD responded with an 8-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by a 26-yard screen pass from Warren to Ganious for a touchdown. It gave the Coyotes a 21-10 lead – one they would take into halftime.

"Their ability to move the football on us gave them confidence," Brewster said. "They were scoring points and scoring critical points. Every time we felt like we were back in it, they did something good."

After USD scored to open the third quarter, on a 61-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Powell, the Gophers responded with two straight touchdowns.

Though USD would get a 25-yard touchdown run from Warren late in the third quarter, Minnesota finally found some sort of momentum.

With 11:23 to play, the Gophers intercepted a pass from Warren and needed just three plays to score – on a 1-yard run by Duane Bennett.

Suddenly, it was a 34-31 game.

"At no time did I think it was over, until like the last two minutes," Warren said. "We just had to keep pushing and keep playing. All game, I never sat down and stopped moving."

Needing a response, the Coyotes turned to – who else – Warren.

On 4th-and-1, the junior took the snap and ran around the right side for a long touchdown, eliciting more boos from the Gopher crowd.

"It's called '36-Keep,' but I don't tell anyone else what the play is," he said later. "Everyone thinks it's a regular play, but I keep it myself. One guy came out to get me and I just trusted my legs."

Though Minnesota made things interesting with a 1-yard touchdown run by Bennett with 3:21 to go, USD was able to run out the clock.

And in the process, continue a trend set by previous FCS visitors North Dakota State and South Dakota State in the past four years.

The Bison narrowly lost to Minnesota in 2006, but beat the Gophers in 2007, and SDSU suffered a 16-13 loss last fall.

Yet, Saturday's win came in USD's third year at the Division I level.

"We kept pushing the envelope," said Meierkort, whose team hosts Northwestern Oklahoma State on Saturday, Sept. 18. "This team has four seniors, are you kidding me?

"They  did a very good job keeping their poise, and I'm very proud of them."

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