VERMILLION — Who could have seen that coming?
Did the players on the South Dakota football team, which had a week ago lost to a previously winless opponent, get a sense that anything like Saturday was coming?
“I believed it was going to come, but I just knew we had to keep our head down and stay working,” senior defensive lineman DeValon Whitcomb said.
Still, there was a sense of surprise.
Not only did the Coyotes snap a three-game losing streak, they demolished Youngstown State 56-21 on Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
Mirred in a season filled with missed opportunities and inconsistencies, the Coyotes (4-6) performed in a way that drew rave reviews from their head coach.
“I think it would’ve been pretty easy for our guys to just say, ‘Hey, it’s not our year,’” Bob Nielson said.
Instead, they kept at it.
Nielson then commended the game plan his staff put together and the response by his players.
“That was a really good win today against a good football team, and I’m proud of the character they showed,” Nielson added.
The Coyotes totaled 507 yards — including 307 on the ground — and limited Youngstown State, which had been among the nation’s best in rushing, to 66 yards on the ground.
From the end of the second quarter through the early stage of the fourth quarter, USD scored 28 straight points to put the game away.
In that stretch, USD junior running back Kai Henry scored a pair of touchdowns to highlight what was a historic day.
He ran for 130 yards to eclipse 100 for the third straight game, which hadn’t been done by a Coyote back since 2007.
Since rushing for 24 yards at Northern Iowa on Oct. 19, Henry has run for 116, 145 and 130 yards.
“We had a conversation after that Northern Iowa game, and I think he realizes he’s got to be more focused,” Nielson said.
“And he’s played with great focus the last three weeks.”
Henry, though, was quick to deflect credit for his success.
“It starts with the big boys up front, to be honest,” the Florida native said. “They just manhandle the trenches.
“Today they manhandled the trenches again.”
All three of USD’s drives in the first quarter resulted in a touchdown, and the Coyotes then added another on the opening play of the second quarter.
Youngstown State got within 28-14 on a second touchdown pass from Joe Craycraft to Jermiah Braswell.
With a chance to reclaim some momentum, the Penguins instead had a costly giveaway.
They fumbled a punt at the 2-yard line, and USD needed one play for Henry to get into the end zone. Suddenly, USD’s lead had ballooned to 35-14 heading into halftime.
From there, the rout was on.
Canann Brooks and Henry added touchdown runs in the third quarter, and a Dakarai Allen catch on a screen pass went for a 28-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Penguins added a touchdown in the final minute, but it didn’t really matter.
They had been all but shut down, especially on the ground.
Youngstown State had been ranked No. 22 in all of FCS with 204 rushing yards per game, but was held 66 yards on 37 carries Saturday.
That was, according to Nielson, the game plan.
Yes, the Penguins were using their backup quarterback and yes they were forced to throw in the second half because of the deficit, but the Coyotes still kept them from running the ball.
“That’s how you beat good teams,” Nielson said, “by putting them in situations where they’re not comfortable.”
South Dakota senior quarterback Austin Simmons passed for 180 yards and four touchdowns, and also rushed for 72 yards and a score.
He and the Coyotes will now prepare for next Saturday’s game at top-ranked North Dakota State.
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YOUNGSTOWN ST. (5-4, 1-5) 7 7 0 7 — 21
SOUTH DAKOTA (4-6, 3-3) 21 7 14 7 — 56
USD — Connor Herrmann, 13-yard pass from Austin Simmons (Mason Lorber kick); 12:29
USD — Carter Bell, 15-yard pass from Simmons (Lorber kick); 8:46
YSU — Jermiah Braswell, 53-yard pass from Joe Craycraft (Colt McFadden kick); 6:37
USD — Simmons, 10-yard run (Lorber kick); 4:08
USD — Brett Samson, 6-yard pass from Simmons (Lorber kick); 14:55
YSU — Braswell, 9-yard pass from Craycraft (McFadden kick); 10:34
USD — Kai Henry, 2-yard run (Lorber kick); 1:12
USD — Canaan Brooks, 14-yard run (Lorber kick); 11:34
USD — Henry, 1-yard run (Lorber kick); 3:20
USD — Dakarai Allen, 28-yard pass from Simmons (Lorber kick); 14:52
YSU — Braxton Chapman, 1-yard pass from Craycraft (McFadden kick); 0:57