Drue Aman

Drue AmanSports Editor

A physical affair went the way of the Bison at the Fargodome, assuring the Jackrabbits of a losing season for the first time since 2001.

Make it once in the past 24 tries at Fargo.

That’s how many times SDSU has now beaten NDSU on the road, and this time it prevented an undefeated mark against the Bison for the Jackrabbits seniors.

SDSU turned the ball over four times – all through the air – directly leading to 17 NDSU points and concluding the Jacks’ three year possession of the Dakota Marker in a 31-24 loss at the Fargodome, Nov. 13.

That ends SDSU’s last hopes for a winning season and keeps NDSU’s playoff chances only one win from a certainty.

“You don’t win a lot of football games when you throw two for touchdowns,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier about allowing two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

The first of those touchdowns was deep in SDSU’s own territory, with Bison defensive end Coulter Boyer rushing to the outside, only to find the ball thrown directly into his chest pads. Boyer ran four yards for the touchdown, the first defensive touchdown in the rivalry since Derek Domino’s interception return last season.

“I’ll take responsibility for it, I can’t make a mistake like that, especially at a place like that,” said O’Brien, who finished with 247 passing yards but completed 18 of his 42 pass attempts on the day.

The Jacks are undefeated in games where O’Brien does not commit a turnover, but are only 1-8 in games when he does. That was only the beginning of an epidemic of turnovers for the Jacks, though not before SDSU fought back from the early 7-0 deficit on a spinning one-yard run by Kyle Minett, who stood on the sidelines for most of the second half with an injury. Defensive lineman Brian Fischer also left the game with a possibly serious injury. That may have been the product of an extremely physical game on both sides of the ball, enough for NDSU head coach Craig Bohl to label the game as “violent.”

“Anytime you go into a rivalry game like this, you know it’s going to be an emotionally charged game,” said sophomore wideout Tyrel Kool, who received a violent a hit on one occasion in addition to catching six balls for 132 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. “They’re are a really physical football team, one of the most physical we’ve played all year.”

The scoring picked up too in the second half, in part due to turnovers, and the rest by yards on the ground or personal foul penalties. The Jacks had three of those, extending plays an additional 15 yards on top of already sizable gains.

“Immaturity,” said Jacks head coach John Stiegelmeier about committing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties either by late hits or hands to the facemask. “To hit guys behind the play, that’s immaturity.”

Despite the ineptitude of the passing game, the Jacks had a chance to win. Minett tied the game at 14 after the Bison fumbled the opening kickoff return of the second half. After that, NDSU scored 17 straight points, six of those from a Josh Gatlin interception return for a touchdown after a flailing O’Brien pass that appeared to be headed out of bounds but missed by several yards. That made the game 31-14 and all but made the last eight minutes of play a formality.

Not that the SDSU defense was unsteady, because it wasn’t. The Jacks allowed only 276 yards – a season low – and made NDSU quarterback Jose Mohler look as frazzled as O’Brien at times. The Bison punted eight times, allowing plenty of opportunities for a comeback and a fourth-straight Dakota Marker win for SDSU, a comeback that ultimately fell one score short after an O’Brien touchdown pass and a 43-yard field goal by Peter Reifenrath.

“It’s disappointing, it’s tremendously disappointing,” said Stiegelmeier about the loss and now forthcoming losing season – a first since 2001. “But that’s real, that’s life and we’re going to put that in our hearts going into our winter workouts and see how we come out next fall.”

#1.1782132:4211641076.png:Football-07-Robby-Gallagher.png:SDSU running back Kyle Minett dives ahead as NDSU defenders Preston Evans and Colten Heagle bring him down. Minett left the game in the third quarter with a lower leg injury, finishing the game with 75 yards on 16 carries.:Collegian Photo by Robby Gallagher