By Jeremy Hoeck
That has been a popular word in the University of South Dakota football lexicon this season, but it was a particularly appropriate one Saturday afternoon.
Penalties, a consistent issue this fall, negated one of the best offensive outputs of the season for the Coyotes in a 24-21 Missouri Valley loss to Northern Iowa at the DakotaDome.
For USD (1-9, 0-7), it was another close game decided by mistakes.
"All these things, we've been over it and over it," said coach Joe Glenn, whose team lost its eighth straight game. "I don't know what to tell you.
"I talk about it and talk about it, and we just couldn't get it shut down."
The frustration was understandable after the Coyotes rolled up 400 yards of total offense and didn't exactly have a bad day on defense.
Penalties, however, led to two touchdown drives for the Panthers (4-6, 3-4) — especially the four flags of the personal foul 15-yard variety.
"We can't expect to win games when we have eight penalties for 15 yards a piece," USD senior receiver Will Powell said. "I don't care how well we play, that's just not going to get it done."
The Coyotes did have a lead late in the second quarter, but it lasted all of 45 seconds. USD was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, and it proved costly because UNI marched 70 yards in 40 seconds and scored on a 20-yard go-ahead touchdown pass.
Northern Iowa stayed in front for the remainder of the game, although the Coyotes scored late and had a chance for an onside kick recovery.
Still, if not for those penalties and two missed field goals, it might have never come to those dramatics.
"We had to play a perfect game to win. That's our margin of error the way we match up right now," Glenn said. "The things that we can control ultimately killed us."
There were other situations where penalties led indirectly to a UNI score.
- On their second drive of the second quarter, down 7-6, the Coyotes used a pair of big passes to reach the UNI 28-yard line. A 15-yard personal foul penalty moved USD back and four plays later, a 44-yard field goal was blocked.
- After Kevin Robb's second missed field goal late in the third quarter, Northern Iowa benefited from two penalties by USD on the next drive — keyed by a personal foul call — to march 80 yards for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
"They not only destroy you in yardage, but they destroy you in heart," Glenn said. "They eat you up and drive you to be negative."
After the Panthers went up 21-13, USD was stopped on 4th and 1 and Northern Iowa capitalized four minutes later with a field goal.
The Coyotes then made things interesting, but ultimately lost its fifth league game by a touchdown or less.
"We get measured by one thing," Glenn said. "We played well at times in this losing streak, but ultimately you have to look at the scoreboard."
It was an especially productive day for sophomore quarterback Josh Vander Maten, who passed for 205 yards (second most of the season) and ran for a season-high 135 yards.
He accounted for both touchdowns: A 46-yard pass to Powell 55 seconds before halftime and a 1-yard run with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"Our offense hadn't been going how we'd like it to in the past couple weeks, but we got it going; we made some drives," Vander Maten said. "We'd like to finish on a few more of them."
And so, the page is officially turned to the biggest game of the season: South Dakota State.
The Coyotes can play spoiler next Saturday in Brookings, as the Jackrabbits (7-3, 5-2) need a victory to stay in the FCS playoff picture.
"To line up and go against South Dakota State, it's the ultimate in competition for our team," said Glenn, who experienced the State-U rivalry as a player and coach. "This is it; this game means more than anything."
Naturally, the magnitude is not lost on the Coyotes.
"Getting the win is going to mean the world to me," Powell said. "We haven't won in the conference yet, and just getting that rivalry back is so awesome for this state."
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck
(Photo by James D. Cimburek/P&D)