VERMILLION — There are turnovers and then there are costly turnovers.
It was the latter variety that doomed the South Dakota football team on Saturday night.
Three giveaways led directly to 21 points for the other side, and the result was a Northern Iowa 42-28 victory over the No. 24-ranked Coyotes in Missouri Valley action at the DakotaDome.
And that was basically the story of the game.
"We’re probably fortunate to be as close as we were, honestly," USD head coach Bob Nielson said.
Well, he added, when you give a team 21 points — "which is basically what we did" — and turn the ball over deep in own territory, you’re going to have a hard time.
"That’s not winning football," Nielson said, "and we certainly didn’t win today."
Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1) scored a pair of touchdowns in the final minute of the second quarter, the second score coming after a USD fumble on a kickoff return.
And then early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers scored two more touchdowns in the span of 11 seconds: They intercepted a pass, scored on the next play, then recovered a fumble in the end zone.
When the dust had cleared on that span, Northern Iowa’s lead ballooned from 28-21 to 42-21 with 11:24 remaining.
The Coyotes (3-3, 2-1) got a touchdown back, but the damage had been done. The mistakes had already proven costly.
"I believe that once we make our mistakes, it’s just that it happened; it’s done, you have to get past it and try to get back on track," said junior receiver Dakarai Allen, who caught six passes for 98 yards.
If not for those turnovers, the larger story would have been USD’s struggles running the ball.
The Coyotes ran 38 times for 40 yards, a mark that was not helped by five sacks of quarterback Austin Simmons.
And it wasn’t like Northern Iowa was bringing extra defenders to the line, either — the Panthers did most of their damage with a three-man front (a "light box" is how Nielson put it).
"We needed to be able to run the football," Nielson said. "We’re going to watch the film and going to be disappointed in terms of how we blocked."
It wasn’t as though the Panthers ran wild themselves (they rushed 33 times for 99 yards), but it was one drive in particular that Nielson referenced later as damaging.
USD mounted a 14-play, 94-yard drive that ended with a touchdown — a two-point conversion tied the game at 21-21 at the 2:31 mark of the third quarter.
Northern Iowa, though, needed just five plays to find the end zone to re-take the lead.
Then came the USD turnovers.
"That put us in a position where we were in scramble mode offensively," Nielson said, "and we weren’t able to really play our game in the second half."
Simmons completed 34-of-47 passes for 328 yards with two touchdowns (the other went to Kai Henry), while Allen and Henry both caught six passes.
Northern Iowa quarterback Eli was 24-of-33 for 257 yards and four touchdowns, one each to Briley Moore, Nick Fossey, Jaylin James and Marcus Weymiller.
South Dakota will now move on to next Saturday’s road showdown at Youngstown State.
"We have to have a great mentality," Greenfield said. "We have a lot of stuff to fix, and I think our guys understand that."