A strong second half effort by the University of South Dakota football team brought the Coyotes within 17 points in the season opener Saturday at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Air Force. The Falcons posted a 37-20 victory and jumped out to a 30-7 lead at halftime only to see a strong defensive effort bring the Coyotes back in the second half, outscoring the Falcons 13-7.
�We competed extremely well in the second half, especially defensively,� eighth-year head coach Ed Meierkort said. �I�m not happy with the way we played offensively. I think we could�ve stretched these guys more, which then turns around and helps get the defense off the field.�
From the first play from scrimmage Air Force�s Mikel Hunter took an option reverse down the left side for an 80-yard touchdown giving the Falcons a 7-0 lead 16 seconds in.
�They did a great job-a reverse on the first play of the game and use your own anxiety against you,� Meierkort said. �We didn�t match offensively. We had some opportunities, but we took some bad penalties that really hurt us.�
In a game that saw 15 penalties between both teams, the Coyotes were flagged nine times for 83 yards, while the Falcons were called for six infractions for 64 yards.
On the first Coyote possession, a tipped pass off a Dante Warren (Arlington Heights, IL) throw ended in an interception, but senior defensive back Jim Thompson (Hayward, WI) returned the favor for the Coyotes on the ensuing Falcon possession picking off hurler Tim Jefferson. It was Thompson�s third career pick.
Warren and the Coyotes looked like they had something going on the next drive as they got inside the 40, but a penalty and a sack ended in a punt. Air Force�s Jefferson optioned out to punt on fourth down from midfield on its next possession pinning the Coyotes deep.
Junior punter Cole Zweifelhofer (Chippewa Falls, WI) got the Coyotes of trouble with a career-long 72-yard punt. He had two 60-plus yard punts a year ago. The Falcons moved the ball down the field on their next possession as Wesley Cobb scored on a 1-yard run for his first career touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Coyotes began moving the ball again as Falcons as junior Will Powell (Sioux Falls) and senior Michael Neilson (Gilbert, AZ) had a pair of nice catches to move the Coyotes to the 18-yard line as the first quarter came to an end. It was Nielson�s first career-catch as a Coyote.
On third and goal from the five, Warren threw a fade to senior Dustin Nowotny (Rapid City) for the first touchdown of the season on a nine play, 67-yard drive taking up 3:09 on the clock.
On the kick, two costly penalties cost the Coyotes 30-yards as the Falcons began the drive at the 19 of the Coyotes after a 34-yard return by Anthony LaCoste. Air Force then was penalized 30 yards for a hold and a personal foul as it scored on a reverse which was brought back. Parker Herrington then kicked a 45-yard field goal with 11:12 remaining in the half for a 17-7 lead for the home team.
The Falcons moved down the field quickly on their next possession as Asher Clark and LaCoste each had big runs and Jefferson called his own number for a two yard run for a 24-7 advantage. USAFA went 88 yards on eight plays in 2:03 for the score. Jefferson then added a three yard touchdown on the Falcons� next possession for a 30-7 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
�We�ve only played one option team, Cal Poly, and they�re completely different than Air Force,� Meierkort added. �I thought we adjusted at halftime. We came out completely vanilla and just let the kids play. That helped us get 11 out there and play fast.�
The Coyotes were led by Warren on the ground with 35 yards on eight carries. Powell had two receptions for 44 yards, while Nowotny had five receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown. Warren was 9 of 15 with a touchdown and an interception for 86 yards.
Air Force had 298 yards on the ground as Hunter accounted for 82 and Clark had 71, while Jefferson rushed for 59 yards and two scores. Jefferson was just 3 for 6 for 41 yards and one interception.
The Falcons added another score early in the third quarter as a long touchdown from Jefferson to Hunter for a 37-7 score.
South Dakota then marched down the field on its longest drive of the day on 14 plays for 73 yards, but Warren was intercepted by Anthony Wright on the goal line. After a three-and-out by the Falcons, the Coyotes got the ball back with a short field.
Redshirt freshman Josh Vander Maten (Rock Valley, IA) had a nice six-yard rush to the four yard-line and junior running back Marcus Sims (Brooklyn Park, MN) punched it in for six and a 37-14 score early in the fourth quarter.
A forced fumble and recovery by sophomore Tyler Starr (Little Rock, IA) and an interception by senior Shane Potter (Becker, MN) set the Coyotes up nicely again as Warren hooked up with senior Jeremy Blount (Tampa, FL) over the middle for a 35 yard strike cutting the deficit to 37-20.
For the game, the Coyotes were led by Ganious who had 79 yards on 15 carries. Warren tallied 61 yards on the ground, while Sims tallied 41 yards. Warren was 15 of 26 with two touchdowns and three interceptions for 184 yards. Nowotny led the team with 55 yards receiving and a score. Powell tallied 52 yards on three catches and Blount had two receptions for 37 yards and a score.
Blount had 45 yards in three kick returns brining him within two yards of the career kick return record. He has 1,351 return yards as James Vann leads the record book with 1,353 return yards between 1985-1989.
Defensively, the Coyotes were led by Starr who had a game-high six solo tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Darius Hogans (Las Vegas, NV) had a game-high nine tackles with three solo stops and six assisted tackles.
Clark led the way for the Falcons on the ground with 97 yards, while Hunter tallied 82 yards and a score. Jefferson finished with 69 yards and two scores. He was 4 of 9 with two interceptions and 96 yards in the air. Hunter had 55 yards receiving on one reception and a score.
The Coyotes return home to host the defending Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national champions Eastern Washington Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. in the DakotaDome.
For more information about South Dakota athletics, check back with www.usdcoyotes.com. Season tickets for Coyote athletic events can be purchased by calling (605) 677-5959.
�This is a first-class place, we played against one of the better teams in the country and we can take some positives out of it,� Meierkort said. �This is a great environment and we learned a lot from it, but a loss is a loss.�