One ugly game down. Another more meaningful game to come.
Dante Warren made sure the first goal, capping a perfect home record for 23 seniors, came true on a positive note.
A 24-point first quarter and 547 total yards helped No. 24-ranked South Dakota cruise past Division II Missouri S&T 48-14 on Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
The one-sided win not only ensures that the Coyotes (6-4) end their home schedule with a perfect 6-0 record, but that the program records its first winning season since 2008.
"It was amazing. You could definitely feel the emotion flying off us all game," said Warren, the senior quarterback, who passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 58 yards and a score.
"We came out firing."
Now comes the next bigger challenge.
USD will have a chance to tie for the Great West Conference title with a win next Saturday in Grand Forks, ND against North Dakota.
"I told our kids this is a 1-week, 2-game series, Saturday to Saturday," USD coach Ed Meierkort said. "I'm asking them to win two games. We won the first one, now we need to go up and beat the Sioux."
In beating the Miners, the Coyotes held significant edges in rushing yards (230-115) and passing yards (317-206). Lower-level opponent aside, USD rebounded from a rough loss two weeks ago at Cal Poly.
"Scoring points was important for us, so was playing tough down the stretch," Meierkort said. "Getting that bad taste out of our mouth was important. These are not excuses, just facts.
"When your quarterback stays healthy, we're pretty good."
A run-based drive to start the game resulted in a USD touchdown, as Marcus Sims scored on a 4-yard run just 3:48 into the first quarter.
Down 10-0, Missouri S&T fumbled on its ensuing series after a Coyote field goal. And one play later, Warren hit Will Powell for a 49-yard touchdown pass.
Another Miners punt gave the ball right back to USD, and the Coyotes capped off a short drive with a 26-yard touchdown run by Warren.
With that 24-0 cushion, it was a rather lackadaisical second quarter for USD.
The Miners rolled up 211 total yards and scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes – a 2-yard run by Cuterris Golden and a 3-yard strike from Steve Watson to Joseph Hyman with nine seconds left.
"Defensively, our second quarter was not good," Meierkort said. "I could tell about Tuesday it wasn't going to be good. We had our minds on other things, to be honest. Because of that, we paid the price; gave up a few touchdowns."
USD managed to salvage some momentum, as Kevin Robb hit a 51-yard field goal at the halftime horn to send the Coyotes into the locker room up 27-14.
It was during the break where the team's 23 seniors made their presence felt, senior safety Jim Thompson said.
"We weren't all on the same page. It was like we were just out there going through the motions, and that's one of the things we talked about this week, not doing that," he said. "Us seniors got together at half and talked to the team. And we came out and did a lot better job."
Message in hand, the Coyotes completely dominated the second half.
A 24-yard touchdown pass from Warren to Powell at the 8:02 mark and an 11-yard scoring run by Chris Ganious seven minutes later marked the USD scoring in the third quarter.
Then, at the 9:32 mark of the fourth quarter, Warren hit Dustin Nowotny for a 14-yard touchdown catch to put the Coyotes ahead 48-14.
That was all the scoring needed for USD, which can now prepare for next week at North Dakota.
"We saw them come back, but we were able to stand ground," Warren said. "That'll definitely build confidence on both sides of the ball."
Though he joked that USD hasn't won in Grand Forks since Mount Rushmore was built, Meierkort was serious about his team's goals for a Great West title – co-champs or otherwise.
"Back door, side door, garage door, I don't care. If we win up there, we'll be conference champions," he said. "It's kind of us against the world right now; nobody thinks we win on the road.
"Our kids are excited about this. I wish we could play it right now."
SOUTH DAKOTA 48, MISSOURI S&T 14
Missouri S&T 0 14 0 0 — 14
South Dakota 24 3 14 7 — 48
SDak—Sims 4 run (Robb kick), 11:12.
SDak—FG Robb 29, 6:15.
SDak—Powell 49 pass from Warren (Robb kick), 4:40.
SDak—Warren 26 run (Robb kick), 1:41.
MS&T—Golden 2 run (Peden kick), 1:47.
MS&T—Hyman 3 pass from Watson (Peden kick), :09.
SDak—FG Robb 51, :00.
SDak—Powell 24 pass from Warren (Robb kick), 8:02.
SDak—Ganious 11 run (Robb kick), 1:16.
SDak—Nowotny 14 pass from Warren (Robb kick), 9:32.
First downs 16 30
Rushes-yards 27-115 45-230
Passing 206 317
Comp-Att-Int 18-35-1 20-26-0
Return Yards 2 29
Punts-Avg. 7-40.9 4-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-55 4-50
Time of Possession 26:36 33:24
RUSHING—Missouri S&T, R.Taylor 8-43, Watson 5-31, Golden 10-26, Clark 1-10, Drallmeier 2-4, Wilson 1-1. South Dakota, Warren 14-58, Sims 9-47, Ganious 7-35, Pearl 5-32, Archambeau 2-16, Blount 3-16, Vander Maten 3-16, Burrus 2-10.
PASSING—Missouri S&T, Watson 16-27-1-196, Firm 2-6-0-10, Clark 0-1-0-0, Team 0-1-0-0. South Dakota, Warren 17-22-0-288, Vander Maten 3-4-0-29.
RECEIVING—Missouri S&T, Thomas 7-101, Hyman 4-41, Moody 3-16, Golden 1-34, R.Taylor 1-9, Clark 1-5, Drallmeier 1-0. South Dakota, Powell 6-144, Ganious 4-31, Nowotny 3-77, Blount 3-27, Wilhelm 2-16, Archambeau 1-19, Terry 1-3.