Season recap: Coyotes show promise during challenging 2010 campaign

Ed Meierkort's last losing season as head coach was a 2-8 campaign at Wisconsin Stout in 1999. The Blue Devils rebounded to go 10-1 the following season, including a perfect 7-0 in conference play, before losing in the NCAA playoffs. Similarly, Meierkort and the Coyotes battled to a 4-7 record in 2010 to record his first losing season at South Dakota, but the young squad showed glimpses of a promising future next season. In just their third season at the NCAA FCS level, the Coyotes continued to make positive steps, including a historic 41-38 upset of Minnesota, close contests versus ranked foes and impressive performances from multiple underclassmen. Athletic Director David Sayler also announced in the fall that USD will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2012.Challenging StartThe 2010 season was uphill from the start for USD with two FBS programs out of the gate that had qualified for bowls in 2009. The Coyotes traveled to hot and humid Orlando to open with Central Florida on Sept. 4. Junior running back Chris Ganious (Houston, TX) posted 89 rushing yards and a touchdown, including 78 in the first half, but a bigger and quicker Knights squads wore down South Dakota in the second half for a 38-7 win.That game certainly helped USD prepare for the next week, though, when the Coyotes entered a border battle at Minnesota on Sept. 11. First-year starter Dante Warren (Arlington Heights, IL) showed he is more than capable of continuing a heritage of strong quarterback play at USD with a systematic 41-38 dismantling of the Golden Gophers. The junior accounted for 433 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, including 352 through the air and 81 on the ground. It was an all-around effort from all facets of USD's game, though, that captured the victory. Sophomore punter Cole Zwiefelhofer (Chippewa Falls, WI) displayed his marked improvement in his second year in the program with a career-long 60-yard punt and the USD defense forced two turnovers.USD built on the program-defining win with its first ever FCS ranking. All three polls placed the Coyotes in the top 25 in the nation, including climbing as high as No. 20 in the coaches poll, and accolades rolled in all week from various media outlets. NAIA foe Northwestern Oklahoma State was next on the docket on Sept. 18 for the Hall of Fame Game and was no match for the Coyotes. USD racked up 455 total yards behind 118 rushing yards from Ganious and 156 passing yards from Warren in a 48-14 rout. USD's defense was paced by 10 tackles and a sack from junior linebacker Shea Williams (Alexandria), as the win moved the Coyotes to 7-0 in home openers under Meierkort.The following week the Coyotes made their first trip to Fargo since 2003 to face North Dakota State in a battle of ranked opponents. No. 20 South Dakota went into halftime with a 13-7 lead, but a quick 21-point spurt late in the third quarter rattled a young Coyotes' defense and the No. 18 Bison coasted to a 38-16 win. Warren was great again with over 200 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, while Williams and freshman safety Aaron Swift (Aurora, CO) both had nine tackles.Familiar FoesDakota Days presented the first of several chances for redemption during the season for South Dakota with rival North Dakota visiting the DakotaDome after beating USD in 2009. The Coyote defense stepped up big in the 27-17 win on Oct. 2 to help USD improve to 3-2 on the season.  Junior linebacker Adam Broders (Bloomfield, NE) posted 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception, as South Dakota held UND to 13 points under its average. Warren threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The Coyotes also sought payback the following week at UC Davis. Entering this fall, the Aggies were one of two programs to beat USD in the DakotaDome over the last seven years after a thrilling overtime victory in 2009. The trip to California turned into the most frustrating loss of 2010, though, as penalties and turnovers handed the Aggies a 19-14 win. Ganious rushed for a season-high 142 yards on 22 carries and redshirt freshman defensive back Chris Frierson (Tampa, FL) posted a season-high nine tackles, but a fourth-and-nine pass at UCD's 30-yard line with less than two minutes left fell incomplete for the Coyotes.Northern Iowa presented another opponent that defeated USD in 2009, but the Coyotes got the No. 22 Panthers at home in 2010 on Oct. 16. South Dakota once again went into halftime with a lead at 7-6, but UNI scored 13 unanswered points for a 19-14 win. USD mounted a late comeback thanks to a 38-yard touchdown catch by sophomore wide receiver Will Powell (Sioux Falls), but the Coyotes couldn't recover the onside kick. South Dakota got stand-out play from its linebacker core, as three of the four starters set career highs in tackles. Broders paced the squad with 15, Williams added 12 and senior Cory Kuehl (Rock Rapids, IA) had 10.Down the StretchThe Coyotes revisited the site of their first ever Great West Conference victory on Oct. 23 at Southern Utah. The result was different this time, though, as the Thunderbirds earned their first win over USD, 31-13, and went on to post a perfect 4-0 mark in league play. Junior wide receiver Dustin Nowotny (Rapid City) hauled in a career-high eight catches for 96 yards and freshman kicker Kevin Robb (Rapid City) made a career-long 49-yard field goal, but it wasn't enough for USD.South Dakota rebounded with a 34-6 stampede of Northern Colorado. The Coyotes jumped all over the Bears to start the game. Junior Marquis Butler (Los Angeles, CA) forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that was recovered by USD and Warren hit Ganious on the next play for the quick lead. Robb recovered an onside kick on the next play and three plays later the Coyotes were up 14-0 just 1:12 into the game. Warren went on to pass for three touchdowns, while senior linebacker Eric Leon (Lancaster, CA) made nine tackles and two sacks in his first career start.USD faced its third ranked opponent of 2010 when No. 18 Cal Poly visited Vermillion on Nov. 6. The Mustangs used a triple-option option offense to roll to a 38-24 win despite South Dakota holding a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter. Powell had another big game for USD with a career-high 168 receiving yards on six catches, while Williams posted a career-high 13 tackles.The season ended on a down note with a 24-20 loss at first-year program Lamar on Nov. 13. Warren was knocked out in the first quarter and redshirt freshman Tyler Wilhelm (Loxahatchee, FL) played valiantly leading USD on three scoring drives, but the Cardinals scored with 43 seconds left to grab the win. Ganious posted 91 rushing yards playing in his home state and defensive lineman Jesse Weisbrod (Waupaca, WI) and David Giese (Chicago, IL) both had two sacks to lead South Dakota. The game was the last for the five USD seniors.Wrapping Up 2010A total of 15 USD players earned All-GWC honors after the season, including Zwiefelhofer who was named GWC Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 43.2 yards per punt with 18 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Ganious, Broders and junior offensive lineman Tom Compton (Rosemount, Minn.) also earned first-team accolades. USD's 15 honorees were up three from last season, as the Coyotes also earned 17 honors in the GWC Media Awards. Overall, the Coyotes earned GWC Player of the Week eight times, including four by Zwiefelhofer, which was the most of any player in the league.The 2010 season is one that will be remembered by South Dakota fans for a long time. Wins over several quality opponents and breakout play from numerous skill players showed the Coyotes are headed in the right direction and the 2011 campaign could be even more exciting.

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