SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Like a week ago in Crookston, the Southwest Minnesota State football team found itself playing catch-up in the second half on the road. And like a week ago, the Mustangs' comeback bid came up short.
But Saturday's 41-22 loss against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference newcomer Sioux Falls was far more palatable than the previous week's 33-28 loss to conference doormat Minnesota-Crookston. Mistakes were again made, big plays were again given up, and key late-game drives fizzled out. Still, following the game, SMSU players and coaches felt it was a much-improved performance they put forth at Bob Young Field against 25th-ranked USF.
"No matter what you do, it's all about effort, and last week we didn't come ready to play. This week we did," said SMSU quarterback Tyler Peschong, who completed 28 of 50 passes for 262 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. "We came out ready to play and made a lot of great plays. We left some out there on both sides of the ball that we're gonna want back, but I'm really proud of how responded from last week and look forward to moving on to next week."
It was a scrappy effort for the Mustangs (1-4 overall and in the NSIC), who pulled to within five points (27-22) early the in the fourth quarter when running back Gannon Moore broke through a gaping hole in the line and went untouched 23 yards on his way into the end zone. The run tied Moore, a Sioux Falls native, for the SMSU career rushing touchdowns record at 29.
The defense was close to coming up with a stop on USF's ensuing possession, forcing a third-and-eight at the USF 45-yard line, but Cougar quarterback Taylor Perkins picked up the first down with his legs, scampering 10 yards to keep the drive alive. Perkins then used his arm to hook up with wide-open receiver Jeremiah Oates down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown. After the extra point, USF was up 34-22 with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game.
SMSU went three-and-out on its next possession, Perkins added his fifth touchdown pass of the game shortly thereafter (a 29-yard strike to Kendrick Celestine), and the Cougars put the finishing touches on their fifth straight win to open their inaugural season in the NSIC.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State running back Warren Matthews (20) is pursued by Sioux Falls defender Brett Jensen (8) as USF’s Robert Virgil looks on during the first half of Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at Bob Young Field in Sioux Falls, S.D. Matthews rushed for 99 yards on 14 carries in the game.
USF head coach Jed Stugart said he knew the Mustangs were better than what they showed in their loss to Minnesota-Crookston, and he made sure his players were mentally prepared for a battle entering the game.
"We warned our team all week that they were going to face a very good offense," Stugart said. "I was very impressed with how scrappy their defense was, and I think they fought us really hard. But I am proud of our football team and how we battled through some adversity and got some momentum back when we needed to."
The Cougars always got the big plays when they needed them, and they did so with Perkins and his talented receiving corps of playmakers.
Six-foot-3 with speed and athleticism, Oates scored the game's first touchdown on a 47-yard pass from Perkins with 8:46 left in the first quarter. He finished the game with five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Carrington Hanna, a converted quarterback, added four catches for 76 yards, including touchdown receptions in the second and third quarters.
Perkins completed 18 of 31 passes for 317 yards, and showed great elusiveness when he needed to by rushing for 52 yards on eight carries. In total, USF piled up 537 yards of offense.
The Mustangs did their best to try to keep pace, even with Peschong battling through a leg injury and multiple receivers either out with an injury or playing with an injury. SMSU tallied 423 yards of offense and saw success with the ground game, picking up 161 rushing yards mostly from Warren Matthews (99 yards on 14 carries) and Moore (10 carries for 53 yards).
"We're gonna keep competing, we're gonna keep battling," Peschong said. "There's gonna be injuries, there's gonna be bumps, but we're gonna keep working to get better."
Entering the game as one of the worst teams in the conference at converting on third downs (31.9 percent), the Mustangs were facing the NSIC's stingiest defense in terms of opponents' third-down conversion percentage (22.7 percent). Those numbers didn't hold true for Saturday's contest, as the Mustangs converted on eight of 17 third downs. The Cougars, however, were even better, making good on seven of their 12 third-down attempts.
While converting well on third downs, the Mustangs were unable to get into the end zone in the first half and trailed 17-3 going into halftime. USF scored first out of the break, as kicker Braden Wieking made a 19-yard field goal (after having made a 54-yarder in the first half) to put his team up 17.
In need of a response, SMSU went on a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Peschong diving in from a yard out for a touchdown. Then, on the first play of USF's next possession, running back Kristian Porter was stripped of the football and SMSU's Jacob Levtzow recovered at the Mustangs' 45-yard line.
A 30-yard rush by Matthews set up a perfect 19-yard pass and catch from Peschong to tight end Cody Condon over the middle to cut the USF lead to 20-16 with 4:42 left in the third.
SMSU had a chance to take the lead after the defense came up with another stop, but the offense went three-and-out, and USF got an 8-yard touchdown catch from Hanna early in the fourth quarter to get a little more breathing room. Moore later scored on his school record-tying touchdown, but the Mustangs were unable to muster any more points in the final 10 minutes.
The Mustangs now go from facing a unbeaten Sioux Falls team to taking on 4-1 Wayne State (Neb.) for SMSU's homecoming game. Since 2000, the Mustangs have won just once on homecoming.
His team has lost three straight games, but Mustang head coach Cory Sauter said he thinks his players are back to heading in the right direction.
"(USF is) just a very talented team. You have to pretty much play a perfect game to be able to beat them, as far as where we're at right now," Sauter said. "But like I told them after the game, I was just happy with the way they battled and fought until the end. There was no sign of quit. The sidelines were very positive, so I left the game feeling good as far as just the overall attitude of the team."
SMSU3 0 13 6-22
USF7 10 3 21-41
USF-Jeremiah Oates 47 pass from Taylor Perkins (Braden Wieking kick), 8:46
SMSU-Lance Schuveiller 26 field goal, 3:11
USF-Wieking 54 kick, 14:19
USF-Carrington Hanna 14 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 1:50
USF-Wieking 19 field goal, 9:58
SMSU-Tyler Peschong 1 run (Schuveiller kick), 6:29
SMSU-Cody Condon 19 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick blocked), 4:42
USF-Hanna 8 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 13:26
SMSU-Gannon Moore 23 run (Peschong pass fail), 10:17
USF-Oats 45 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 8:16
USF-Kendrick Celestine 29 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 4:45
First Downs: SMSU 2; USF 24. Rushing Yards: SMSU 161; USF 220. Passing Yards: SMSU 262; USF 317. Total Offense: SMSU 423; USF 537. Turnovers: SMSU 3; USF 2. Penalties (Number-Yards): SMSU 4-59; USF 5-45. Time of Possession: SMSU 30:32; USF 29:28. Third-Down Conversions: SMSU 8 of 17; USF 7 of 12. Fourth-Down Conversions: SMSU 2 of 2; USF 0 of 0. Sacks By (Number-Yards): SMSU 0-0; USF 0-0.
Rushing: SMSU-Warren Matthews 14-99, Gannon Moore 10-50, Tyler Peschong 5-8; USF-Kristian Porter 10-97, Taylor Perkins 8-52, Jordan Taylor 13-42, Kendrick Celestine 3-30.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): SMSU-Peschong 28-50-285-2; USF-Perkins 18-31-317-0.
Receiving: SMSU-Abe Kos 7-71, Cody Condon 6-63, Anthony Dean 4-18, Gannon Moore 3-45, Will Kurka 3-27, Warren Matthews 2-14, Jordan Cross 1-10, Adam Olson 1-10, Britt Wickett 1-4; USF-Jeremiah Oates 5-112, Carrington Hanna 4-76, Kendrick Celestine 3-49, Austin VanHove 3-32, Jordan Taylor 2-30, Darren Neely 1-18.
Tackles: SMSU-Joe Stupka 8, Blake Pennock 6, Tate Bunkers 5, Da'Ronte Smith 4; USF-Matt White 12, Nick Bonte 10, Robert Virgil 6.
Interceptions: SMSU-None; USF-Thad Campbell, Jonathan Talbot.
FR: SMSU-Donovan Woods, Jacob Levtzow.
Sacks: SMSU-None; USF-None.