By Jeremy Hoeck
Another top-10 opponent and another late gut punch for the University of South Dakota football team.
Deja vu in the DakotaDome.
Montana, ranked No. 10 and 12 in the FCS polls, scored a pair of non-offensive touchdowns in the final 6:33 to stun the Coyotes 31-27 in front of 6,567 fans Saturday afternoon in Vermillion.
In short, much the same way USD (4-6) lost a week ago to Youngstown State.
“Just a horrible loss; I can’t even qualify how bad it is,” said a dejected Coyote head coach Joe Glenn, whose team now has to bounce back for rival South Dakota State this weekend.
“It’s just a shame because it should have never happened.”
Up 24-17 with 6:33 to play, Montana’s Matt Hermanson – no stranger to the DakotaDome – returned a Trevor Bouma fumble 35 yards for a touchdown.
The Coyotes, though, took a 27-24 lead on a 38-yard field goal by Miles Bergner with 1:48 remaining.
Then came the ensuing kickoff, which was caught by Montana’s Ellis Henderson and returned 98 yards for a touchdown. USD, with two timeouts left, was unable to find the end zone on its final series.
And just like that, the Grizzlies (8-2) walked away with a victory.
“That’s football, crazy stuff happens. You can’t predict those kinds of things,” said USD sophomore quarterback Kevin Earl. “We were trying to close the game out by running it, and Bouma – he gave every ounce of energy he had. Kid fought his butt off.”
As did Henderson, a sophomore receiver for Montana. He accumulated 315 all-purpose yards, including four catches for 188 yards and two scores.
“I don’t know how many miles Ellis covered in that game before that, but somehow he found that energy to run through the kicker, and then I knew it was over,” Montana head coach Mick Delaney said.
In the minds of USD, though, the series should have never occurred.
“We just can’t fumble the ball, and you can’t kick off to their best guy,” Glenn said. “That’s my fault; should have never let that happen. I know that, and I didn’t change it.”
The day wasn’t a total letdown for the Coyotes, particularly on defense.
Montana, which rushed for more than 300 yards in last year’s meeting in Missoula, mustered only 53 yards on the ground Saturday. Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson was also intercepted three times, after coming in with only one pick all season.
Johnson’s second pass of the game was intercepted by USD senior safety Aaron Swift and returned 60 yards for a touchdown. Johnson, though, eventually settled in and hit Henderson for touchdown completions of 6 and 71 yards in the first half.
“He’s definitely a playmaker; definitely somebody we game-planned for,” Swift said of the Montana quarterback. “We knew he could throw it, knew he could extend the play.
“He’s just a good player that we had to stop, but he made plays.”
The Coyotes did that on consecutive drives late in the second quarter. Earl hit Josh Vander Maten for a 2-yard touchdown at the 9:22 mark and USD later went up 24-17 with a field goal at the halftime buzzer.
From there, the Coyote defense held strong, forcing Montana into interception, punt, interception and punt prior to the fumble return for a touchdown by the Grizzlies.
Following the kickoff return by Henderson late in the fourth quarter, USD had the ball at its own 25-yard line and 1:36 left. The Coyotes marched all the way down to the Montana 31 before Earl’s pass to the end zone was batted down on fourth down.
The Grizzlies then took a knee and began their celebration, while the Coyotes were left to stomach another tough loss.
“Any time you suffer a tough loss, it makes you stronger, prepares you for another situation,” Earl said. “I think we’ll bounce back. You’ll probably see every guy on this team will be ready to go.”
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