VERMILLION — It was not the Senior Day performance the South Dakota Coyotes were hoping for on Saturday.
“We didn’t execute very well today,” Coyotes head coach Bob Nielson said. “The results ended up lopsided on the scoreboard.”
The Northern Iowa Panthers used a potent passing attack to put plenty of points up on the scoreboard at the DakotaDome on their way to a 58-14 victory over the Coyotes.
“I told our team in the locker room (that) we’ve got some fuel now,” Nielson said. “If that score doesn’t feel you into the offseason, then you’re in the wrong place. We want guys that don’t want that taste in their mouth again.”
Despite the loss and the circumstances surrounding a 3-8 (2-6 Missouri Valley Football Conference) finish to the 2022 season, athletic director David Herbster spoke to media to kick off the postgame press conference and announced the university would keep Nielson as the coach and extend his contract.
“Was this a season we had all hoped for? Of course not,” Herbster said. “Bob would be the first to tell you this is not what we want Coyote football to be. What Bob has done extremely well is compiled an incredible group of young men that represent themselves, their families (and) communities in this university extremely well.
“I’ve always believed that there’s more to coaching than just what you see on a scoreboard. I do believe that this team has a very bright future We need to make sure we give them all the tools to be successful.”
Team captains Alex Jensen and Dalton Godfrey, both playing in their last games as Coyotes, said it was easy to connect with Nielson and praised his honestly through the recruiting process.
“He’s the only coach that had faith in me to play at this level,” Jensen said. “He’s the reason I’m here and I would probably not be playing division one football without him.”
“He’s done a lot for this program,” Godfrey said. “For me, he knew coming into my family that he was coming into hostile territory (with myself) being from Cedar Falls. He had to promise me (things). He was a man of his word through and through, and he gave me all the opportunities that could have in order to be great. He pushed me to a level that I don’t think I would have reached anywhere else. I’m glad to hear the announcement that was made today, because I think it’ll be good for a lot of people going forward to be able to be pushed by a man like Coach Nielson.”
Nielson believes he is the right man to lead the program into the future.
“The conversations that I’ve (with Herbster) were on the importance of moving forward the future of our program,” Nielson said. “I love this place. I think it’s a unique place because of the people and the passion that those people have. If there’s one thing that I’m disappointed in regarding this year is (that) we didn’t give those people enough to cheer about. I can guarantee you this: I’m going to work as hard as I can, and keep working as hard as I can to make sure that not only we represent this program the way that it needs to be represented, but we drive to continue to win on the field and win a championship.”
On the field, the Panthers dominated in about every aspect of the game. Quarterback Theo Day led the way for UNI, going 21-30 for 380 yards and six touchdowns (five pass, one run). He had 256 yard passing in just the first quarter as UNI led 21-0. Sergio Morancy had a big game for the Panthers, catching four passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
UNI improved to 6-5 (5-3 MVFC) with the victory.
For USD, Aidan Bouman finished 20-33 for 132 yards with a touchdown and interception. Shomari Lawrence had 14 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown. On defense, Stephen Hillis had 13 tackles to finish with 114 on the season.
“It’s been great to see Steven have the year that he’s had,” Nielson said. “For a guy that a year ago got on the field a little bit in special teams, he stepped to the plate. To play at the level that he’s played, we’re excited that we’ve got the ability to get him back for another year.”
Brock Mogensen finished with eight tackles for the Coyotes, upping his total to 104 on the season.
As Nielson said, the Coyotes look to use the loss Saturday as motivation throughout an offseason that now has much more clarity to it than before the game.