Caleb Vander Esch

South Dakota's Caleb Vander Esch, 13, tries to slice through the South Dakota State defense for more yardage during their Missouri Valley Football Conference volleyball match on Saturday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

VERMILLION — The last time South Dakota defeated South Dakota State, some Coyotes players hadn’t even been born yet.

But the most recent addition of the South Dakota Showdown Series is one they will surely not forget.

The Coyotes got a victory over the rival Jackrabbits for the first time since 2000, defeating South Dakota State 24-21 at the DakotaDome on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m really proud of our football team, [it was a] good win, we beat a really good team,” South Dakota Head Coach Bob Nielsen said.

And although the Coyotes reigned over the Jackrabbits at the end of the night, it didn’t look like it would be that way from the beginning.

The Jackrabbits stopped the Coyotes offense early, and drove down the field smoothly before Freshman Quarterback Keaton Heide faked a handoff and found a wide-open Kallan Hart for the touchdown. South Dakota’s second drive was just as successful as the first, but the Jackrabbits fumbled on the punt return, and Mason Lorber connected on the 39-yard field goal early in the second quarter to score South Dakota’s first points, and give the Coyotes the momentum it needed.

The Coyotes and Jackrabbits then traded possessions after the field goal but both were unable to score. However, Coyotes Safety Isaiah McDaniels forced a fumble on a huge hit late in the second quarter to put South Dakota in a position to score with just 2:36 remaining in the half.

“Coach was telling us all week that we have to execute our game plan, but most importantly we have to tackle, we have to tackle hard, be aggressive, 11 people to the ball, all out,” McDaniels said. “And that’s what we did.”

Senior quarterback Austin Simmons and the Coyotes managed to drive down to the one yard line before Simmons found Brett Samson for a touchdown to put South Dakota up 10-7 with just eight seconds to go until half.

South Dakota State would then respond early in the second half, as they drove quickly down the field on their first possession and scored when Mikey Daniels ran 27 yards untouched into the end zone. The Coyotes, however, were not going to give up.

“When they scored, you just got to respond, you can’t back down,” Simmons said.

Simmons would then find Kody Case for a 44-yard pass on the ensuing possession to put the Coyotes near the goal line. Simmons proceeded to run in the two-yard touchdown to put South Dakota up 17-14 with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter.

South Dakota would then score again on its’ next possession, as Samson caught a pass from Simmons for the 21-yard touchdown to put the Coyotes up 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

South Dakota State, however, proved it wasn’t going to roll over when Heide found Michael Wandmaker for the eight-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put the game within 3 for the Jackrabbits. The Coyotes, defense, however, had other plans. McDaniels forced a second fumble deep in Coyote territory later in the fourth quarter, and then South Dakota stopped a tough Jackrabbits drive late in the game to put the Coyotes in great position to win the game.

The Coyotes offense, though, couldn’t get much going in the fourth quarter, and with 1:14 remaining, was forced to punt. The South Dakota special teams then came up big, pinning the Jackrabbits deep in their own territory.

“Our special teams played a huge part in the win today, pinning those guys deep a bunch of times,” South Dakota Senior Defensive Lineman Darin Greenfield said.

And after that huge special teams play, it was time for the Coyotes defense to step up one last time.

“We [the defense], at the end of the game, having it come down to us, that was something you dream of…That’s the moments you practice for and go through five years of football to be out there to do,” Greenfield said.

The South Dakota defense did come up big, recovering a fumble on a Jackrabbits’ lateral pitch and ending the game with a 24-21 victory.

“It’s kind of like one of those iconic wins…It really feels great to go out one last time and get win,” Simmons said.

The Coyotes finish their year with a 5-7 overall record and a 4-4 record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, finish the regular season with an 8-4 record and a 5-3 MVFC record. And even though the loss was tough for South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits will now prepare for their playoff run.

“First, congratulate Coach Nielsen and his staff and his program for the win. I thought they had a really good game plan. They executed and we had our chances at times and did not execute,” Jackrabbits Head Coach John Stiegelmeier said. “But I know that our guys are going to be excited to go into the playoffs and make a run. And they will do that. I promise you that.”

For South Dakota, Simmons ended the game with 252 yards and two touchdowns on 20-32 passing, while running for 57 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Samson finished with 71 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions, while Kase added 111 yards on five receptions. Defensively for the Coyotes, Jack Cochrane ended with 11 tackles, while Elijah Reed added ten tackles, and McDaniels had nine tackles to go along with two forced fumbles.

As for the Jackrabbits, Heide threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns on 26-35 passing, while Daniel had 126 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

Now for the Coyotes, it’s a time to reflect on the win and the foundation they created for their program.

“That win, that was a great win, a great team win too. You know offense did their job, [the] defense did their job…So that gave the team that is here, and that’s still going to be here, the opportunity to know what we can do,” South Dakota Senior Defensive Lineman DeValon Whitcomb said.

“That’s been something we talk about every year; it’s on our goal sheet at the beginning of year,” Greenfield said. “To make that one at the end of the year really means a lot to me, personally, and to get that foundation for the sophomores and the juniors that are going to be taking over the program next year, that means a lot.”

And as for the Coyotes’ fans across South Dakota, they can smile.

Because for the first time in 19 years, it’s a Coyote state.

Follow @tyler_kozeal on Twitter.

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