By Eric Doennig
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of South Dakota athletics.
VERMILLION, S.D. – South Dakota relied on a stout defensive effort and a second-half offensive surge to pull away for a 40-10 victory over Missouri State in Missouri Valley Football Conference action Saturday at the DakotaDome. USD (4-3, 2-2 MVFC) scored on its first four second-half possessions, while limiting the Bears offense to a pair of first downs through the first three periods to notch its second straight conference win.
The Coyotes, who rolled up a season-high 510 yards of total offense, were aided by career games from quarterback Ryan Saeger and running back Michael Frederick in cashing in on 5-of-6 scoring chances in the red zone.
Saeger posted career bests for completions and passing yardage, going 20-for-29 for 275 yards and a critical second-quarter touchdown pass to Eric Shufford that turned the tide for good, while Frederick carried the ball 22 times for a career-high 129 yards.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, USD’s defense enjoyed its best day of the 2015 season, holding MSU (1-6, 0-4 MVFC) to seven first downs and 155 yards of offense.
The big second-half push by the host club overshadowed a competitive first stanza that saw the Bears use a gritty defensive effort and a big play from one of the Valley’s top return specialists to trail by just two points until the closing minutes of the second quarter.
But Saeger’s 34-yard scoring pass to Shufford with just under five minutes to play in the second set off the Coyotes scoring bonanza, and the Bears would never recover in suffering their fourth straight MVFC loss to start the league slate.
Despite running just six offensive plays for a total of 18 yards in the opening period, the Bears found themselves down by just two points after the first 15 minutes of play thanks to a stingy defense and an electrifying kickoff return by Deion Holliman.
USD engineered scoring drives on its first two possessions, using a pair of long runs by Frederick to set up a 53-yard Miles Bergner field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Saeger then scrambled for a 26-yard gain on the Coyotes’ next drive to move the ball into MSU territory once again.
But the MSU defense tightened up to stuff Frederick on a pair of short runs, then forced an incompletion on third down to set up a second Bergner kick, as the junior’s 29-yarder made it a 6-0 game at the 6:11 mark.
The Coyote defense continued to flex its collective muscle, forcing a third consecutive three-and-out by the Bears’ offense.
But the MSU defense had an answer, as Daryl Coburn stopped Frederick in the backfield for one of the Bears’ seven tackles for a loss in the opening half to force the first USD punt of the afternoon.
However, on the ensuing return, a big hit by Clay Fisher jarred the ball free from Holliman’s grasp at the MSU 10, and the Coyotes’ Jim Litrenta fell on it at the 6 to set up another scoring chance for the home club.
The Bears defense once again proved up for the challenge, pushing the Coyotes back six yards courtesy of a James Barnes sack and a Dylan Cole takedown in the backfield.
Bergner converted a 28-yard field goal for a 9-0 USD lead, but Holliman atoned for his previous turnover to flip the momentum in the Bears’ direction.
The sophomore fielded the ensuing kickoff a yard deep in his own end zone before streaking through the Coyotes coverage to pay dirt with the fourth 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Bears history.
After forcing another USD punt, the Bears picked up their first first down of the day on the second play of the second period. Breck Ruddick’s third-down pass narrowly eluded the reach of LeMarcus Stewart in the end zone, halting the drive at the USD 44.
Chris Sullens’ 41-yard punt pinned the Coyotes at their own 3 yard line, but Saeger hooked up with Brandt Van Roekel on completions of 28 and 15 yards on successive plays to move USD into MSU territory.
Colby Isbell forced a Saeger fumble after chasing down the USD signal-caller for the Bears’ third sack of the half, and Tony Jones scooped up the loose ball to set up the MSU offense at midfield.
After a pair of Ryan Heaston rushes netted 13 yards and a first down, the Coyotes defense stood its ground, posting back-to-back six-yard stops for losses to thwart the Bears’ threat.
Sager heated up on the ensuing USD drive to complete 4-of-5 pass attempts for 89 yards, including a 38-yard toss to Nick Meyer and the key scoring strike to Shufford that extended the Coyote advantage to 16-7 with 4:49 to play in the half.
USD, which had a pair of touchdowns called back due to penalties in the opening half, had the chance to add to its lead before intermission, marching 61 yards to set up a first and goal at the MSU 5.
But Darius Ivy broke up Saeger’s first-down pass attempt, then picked off his heave into the end zone on third down to squash the drive.
USD seized control for good with a 12-play, 63-yard scoring drive on its opening possession of the second half, as the Coyotes covered the final 54 yards on the ground.
Frederick, who accounted for 43 rushing yards during the drive, capped the four-minute, 42-second march with a 13-yard scoring run.
On the Coyotes’ next possession, Saeger took control through the air, finding three different receivers for a total of 45 yards before Nate Gunn carried it in from two yards out to extend the margin to 30-7 with 4:38 to play in the third quarter.
After a Tyson Graham interception handed the ball back to USD at the MSU 35, Bergner added a fourth successful field goal try late in the third, connecting from 36 yards out to push the Coyote lead to 26 points.
After Marcelo Bonani booted a 21-yard field goal on the heels of Jason Randall’s career-long 60-yard rush, the hosts then elected to air it out for a late scoring pass that accounted for the final margin.
Cole spearheaded the MSU defense with the first 20-tackle game for a Bear since Caleb Schaffitzel reached the mark against Louisville in 2012. Isbell added six stops to go along with 1.5 tackles for losses and the forced fumble on his second-quarter sack of Saeger.
Randall led the Bears in rushing for the second straight week with 77 yards on 10 carries.
Up next, the Bears return to Robert W. Plaster Stadium for a 2 p.m. game against South Dakota State next Saturday.
Noteworthy: Miles Bergner’s 53-yard field goal represents the longest by an MSU opponent since the 2006 season, when Western Kentucky’s Chris James booted a 54-yarder…Deion Holliman’s 100-yard kick return in the second quarter marked the first by a Bear since Steven Rush accomplished the feat on Oct. 9, 2004 at Illinois State…The MSU defense recorded a pair of takeaways, three sacks and seven TFL’s in the first half…Darius Ivy’s interception in the end zone to halt USD’s drive at the end of the first half was the first of his career…Jason Randall’s fourth-quarter 60-yard run represents the longest gain from scrimmage by a Bear in 2015…Dylan Cole’s total of 20 tackles is the top single-game effort by a Valley defender this season.