It had been four years since Adam Broders got to carry the ball into the end zone, but the senior from Bloomfield, Neb., made his first collegiate touchdown count in a big way.
The recipient of a deflected pass in the third quarter, the third-year starting linebacker ran 66 yards for a 'pick-six' touchdown that ended up being the deciding score in another crucial home victory.
Was the former 8-man standout for the Bloomfield Bees reverting back to his running back ways?
"Looks can be deceiving," he said, with a smile, after leading the Coyotes with 14 tackles, including two for loss.
A strong second-half defensive effort overshadowed another sluggish offensive output as No. 19-ranked South Dakota held off Cal Davis 27-24 in a Great West Conference nail-biter Saturday night at the DakotaDome.
With the offense struggling to develop any sort of rhythm, the Coyotes (5-3, 2-0) recovered two fumbles, picked off two passes and held the visiting Aggies to seven points in the second half.
The highlight of the day for the USD defense was the play by Broders, who was in the right place at the right time on the deflected pass, and the game tied at 17-17.
"I saw it up in the air. It was like slow motion, I guess," Broders said. "It seemed like it couldn't get to my hands fast enough. As soon as I got by the sideline, I figured I had a touchdown."
USD allowed 256 yards through the air to the Aggies (2-5, 0-1), but shut down quarterback Randy Wright in the second half with the exception of a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:01 to play.
The Coyotes nearly had a second defensive touchdown, but a fumble recovery by Tyler Starr with 3:21 left was called back on a holding penalty — nullifying the score.
"They were given some bad field positions, but our defense is pretty good," head coach Ed Meierkort said. "I just think we play with a rhythm and tempo. We played better up front in the second half, and that was the difference in the game, I thought."
It was also the first victory for USD over UC Davis since joining the Great West Conference in 2008, with a road loss in 2009 and a home loss to the Aggies a year ago.
"We hadn't been able to beat UC Davis yet, and it seems like any way the ball bounces, it doesn't go our way against that team," Meierkort said. "We had the game salted away, took a bad penalty, and instead of gapping them and have the game be over, we had to fight until the end."
A 43-yard field goal by Kevin Robb with 4:43 left made it a two-possession game, 27-17, but the Aggies made things interesting with the 62-yard touchdown drive with just over a minute to play.
UC Davis then tried an offside kick, which resulted in the ball being fumbled by the Coyotes, though USD recovered and kneeled out the victory.
From the start, it appeared that the Coyotes were again in for a battle with the California-based Aggies.
After a sluggish first quarter for both teams, five consecutive drives in the second resulted in points.
The Aggies got a 23-yard field goal at the 12:15 mark to get within 7-3. USD then got a 72-yard kick return by Jim Thompson, but couldn't do anything with the great field position – settling for a field goal by Robb.
UC Davis tied the game at 10 on a 6-yard run by Colton Silveria, but the bulk of the yards on the drive were picked up through the air.
The Coyotes got the lead back, 17-13, after quarterback Dante Warren hit Jeremy Blount on a quick-out pass to the right side, with Blount breaking through a pile and sprinting 67 yards to pay dirt.
Big plays again got the Aggies into the end zone on the next drive, as Wright avoided pressure and lofted a pass to a wide-open Anthony Soto with 2:13 left. The game was tied once again, this time at 17-17.
USD had a chance to score again before the half, but a 45-yard field goal was wide left.
"We got put in some tough positions today; had a lot of penalties in the second half," Broders said. "We really didn't play well in the second quarter, I don't think, but we came out in the second half and played much better."
Both teams started the third quarter with three-and-outs, and it was on the Aggies' second series that Broders caught the deflected pass and put the Coyotes ahead at the 9:00 mark.
"That was certainly a huge play for us, he went from defense to offense real quick," Meierkort said. "And as an 8-man player, he did everything at Bloomfield. He turned into a tailback in a hurry and did a great job getting to the end zone."
The Coyotes then recovered a fumble, by Jim Thompson on the next series, but USD gave the ball right back on a Marcus Sims fumble at the 2:18 mark.
Yet, the Aggies could do nothing with the takeaway, as the Coyotes recorded two sacks on the next drive – proof that things were different in the second half.
While the USD defense was doing its thing in the final two quarters, the Coyote offense again struggled – a week after netting just 108 yards in a loss at Illinois State.
Saturday, the Coyotes rushed for just 72 yards – 21 coming on one sprint from Marcus Sims – and had 185 yards through the air. Though, even there, one play was the 67-yarder to Blount and another was a 42-yard completion to Will Powell.
"There's a great deal of concern," Meierkort said of the offense. "Right now, we're in a funk. We don't run the ball well, we don't throw the ball well, but we won the game. The one thing is we're not turning it over a ton, that's helpful.
"I dont care if it's 3-2 or 59-58, it doesn't make a difference to our guys."
USD were just 3-of-12 on third down, one of many areas the Coyotes trailed the Aggies.
"You just look at the stats, and they're ahead of us in every number," Warren said. "But that just speaks to our team, we fight out of bad positions and we're definitely senior-led."
At 2-0 in the Great West, the Coyotes and Cal Poly, also 2-0, are in the drivers seat for a league championship. Fittingly, the two teams will meet next Saturday in San Luis Obispo, CA.
"It's always great to be undefeated in the conference, especially with only four games," Broders said. "We lost here in the Dome last year to them, and we faced Air Force that's very similar to them. But they're a good team and we have to be ready to play them."