NORMAL, Ill.—South Dakota’s defense forced seven turnovers and Carson Camp and the Coyote offense cashed them in for a 27-20 upset of seventh-ranked Illinois State Saturday at Hancock Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
It was the program’s sixth win against a top-10 team in the last six seasons and South Dakota’s first win in Normal in five tries. The Coyotes have won four consecutive MVFC openers and three of those came on the road.
Camp, a true freshman who played his high school ball less than two miles from Hancock Stadium, passed for 221 yards, ran for 20 and accounted for all three Coyote touchdowns. He became the first true freshman quarterback since 1999 to start a game for USD and the first to start a season opener in recorded history.
South Dakota safety Elijah Reed sealed the win by intercepting Redbird quarterback Bryce Jefferson in the end zone in the final minute. It was the fourth interception thrown by Jefferson and the Coyotes’ also forced him to lose two fumbles.
Illinois State used big plays in the passing game to help take a 17-0 lead six minutes into the second quarter. South Dakota’s offense gave the ball right back before chaos ensued. USD defensive tackle DeValon Whitcomb got a strip sack of Jefferson and Jacob Matthew recovered for the Coyotes in Redbird territory. It was the first of five consecutive turnovers that South Dakota forced and it completely flipped the script.
Following the fumble, Mason Lorber got South Dakota on the board with a 34-yard field goal. Less than two minutes later, Camp threw his first collegiate touchdown, a 23-yard strike to Caleb Vander Esch that made it 17-10 with 2:21 left before halftime.
Illinois State could have opted to take that lead into halftime, but Jefferson put it in the air and Myles Harden made him pay. It was the first of two interceptions in the game for Harden, a true freshman cornerback from Miami Gardens, Florida, who earned the opening-day start.
Four plays later, Camp scrambled from the pocket, got a downfield block from running back Travis Theis near the end zone, and scored on a 15-yard scramble. The extra point tied the game at 17-17 just before the break.
Micah Roane kept the turnovers coming in the second half. After USD drove the field and was stopped on a 4th-and-2 gamble, Roane stripped Jefferson on a scramble and Whitcomb was there to recover at the Redbird 27. That led to a 5-yard touchdown toss from Camp to Carter Bell at the pylon on a three-play touchdown drive that put USD ahead 24-17.
USD safety Isaiah McDaniels, who forced a fumble before the Coyotes’ first touchdown of the second quarter, picked off Jefferson to make it five straight Illinois State turnovers. That time, the Redbird defense held, but South Dakota maintained its 24-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The two teams exchanged field goals to begin the final frame. Lorber was good from 31 yards to make it 27-17 before Aiden Bresnahan knocked through a 25-yarder that made it 27-20 with exactly 10 minutes to play.
Harden’s second interception ended an Illinois State drive to preserve the lead, and edge rusher Jake Richardson almost single-handedly stalled the next Redbird drive. He broke up a second down pass by beating a blocker and hitting Jefferson from behind, then sacked Jefferson on third down to force a punt.
South Dakota’s offense had a chance to ice it on a 3rd-and-2 play, but Illinois State stuffed a run and Brady Schutt was forced to punt. A 54-yarder coupled with a block in the back forced the Redbirds to start from their own 15 with 1:34 left.
Jefferson led Illinois State to the USD 17 to force a Coyote timeout. Jefferson hit Reed in the numbers in the end zone for ISU’s seventh turnover.
Illinois State outgained USD 447-300, but the 7-1 turnover advantage was the difference. Camp completed 20-of-35 passes for his 221. Bell caught four passes for a career-high 64 yards and hauled in his second collegiate touchdown pass. Kai Henry ran 16 times for just 35 yards and Theis ran 10 times for 34.
Jefferson, who started all three playoff games for Illinois State last season in helping the Redbirds reach the quarterfinals, was 15-of-33 through the air for 280 yards. He completed three passes of more than 50 yards, two of which were caught by Austin Nagel who caught five passes for 132 yards. Pha’leak Brown carried 17 times for 86 yards.
South Dakota stays on the road for a Thursday night contest at Valley newcomer and No. 14 North Dakota. The Hawks upset third-ranked South Dakota State 28-17 Saturday to get to 2-0 and will be moving up in the polls ahead of Thursday’s kick.