Pack Defense

A host of South Dakota defenders meet to push back Missouri State running back Jason Randall during their Missouri Valley Football Conference game on Saturday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Saturday was one of those ‘yeah, but’ games for the South Dakota football team.

Yeah, the defense allowed 478 yards, but the Coyotes won.

Yeah, the offense left a handful of points on the table, but it still did enough.

The result was a 35-28 homecoming victory for USD over No. 24-ranked Missouri State on Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.

This is how Coyote senior linebacker Alex Coker put the ‘yeah, but’ theory.

"Today was more of a bend and don’t break mentality," he said.

And Coker, a native of Washington, Iowa, played a central role in the dramatic win for the Coyotes (3-2), who are now 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It was Coker’s tackle on a 4th & Goal run by Missouri State at the 1-yard line with 2:17 remaining that preserved.

"Every once in a while an old guy like me gets to make a play, and it was my turn and I did," said Coker, a fifth-year senior.

Still though, the game wasn’t in hand yet.

No, the Coyote defense was asked to get one more stop, after the offense gave the ball right back after punting with 1:13 remaining.

Missouri State got to the USD 37-yard line with 37 seconds left, but the USD defense forced four straight incompletions.

It was the ‘yeah, but’ scenario at work.

Despite recording three turnovers, the USD defense was still sliced for nearly 500 yards, but managed to come up with two critical stops in the crucial moments.

"At the end, that’s just the collective defensive effort, really," Coker said. "It’s a bunch of guys that are best friends, playing football together."

To follow the ‘yeah, but’ theme, the USD offense rolled up 513 yards but very nearly saw missed opportunities cost the Coyotes the win.

"We squandered some opportunities in the red zone to put more points on the board," head coach Bob Nielson said. "That’s probably the disappointing takeaway offensively."

USD twice got inside the Missouri State 5-yard line but had to settle for a field goal — and there were also two missed field goals.

After Coyote kicker Mason Lorber missed the second field goal, a 42-yarder with 1:54 left in the third quarter, the USD defense forced a punt.

The offense then scored, on an Austin Simmons 40-yard touchdown pass to Levi Falck. A successful two-point conversion pass gave the Coyotes a 35-28 lead with 13:05 left.

Still, the lead could’ve been larger.

"It would’ve been nice to get those points and really put the game away, but credit to the defense for really buckling down and sealing the deal for us," Simmons said.

It also helped that the offense got big games from Simmons (again) and sophomore running back Ben Klett (making his first start).

Simmons completed 28-of-38 passes for 337 yards and the one touchdown, while Klett ran for 96 yards and three touchdowns.

For Klett, he said he no idea he’d be the starter until prior to the game. Sophomore Kai Henry didn’t play due to an injury, so the heavy lifting — 19 carries — went to Klett.

"I knew I had to do my part, taking the place," he said. "I knew I had to perform above what I could normally do."

Still, though, the game was ultimately won by the Coyote defense.

"I’m so proud of our defense," Coker said. "It’s a bunch of guys that have really grown together, with a core group of senior guys and some outstanding younger guys that step up and do their job."

South Dakota stays home next Saturday to host Northern Iowa at 6 p.m., the first USD night game at the DakotaDome since 2009.

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