A season on the brink for SDSU

Drue Aman

Drue AmanSports Editor

There seemed to be unusual sights all over Saturday night at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

It wasn’t just No. 20 SDSU warming up on the other side of the field and emerging from the new locker room at the Dykhouse Center.

SDSU (0-1,0-2) fell behind 24-0 early in the second half of the 15th annual Cereal Bowl and failed to rally late, losing 24-14 to the Illinois State Redbirds (1-0,1-1) in their first home game of the season with 12,425 fans filling Coughlin-Alumni.

There was not a lack of effort or productiveness on the defensive side of the ball early on, with the Jacks defense forcing a quick three-and-out and encouraging SDSU fans- who watched a near brawl between the two teams as they entered the field.

Conversely, SDSU’s offense offered little time for the defense to catch its breath with a similar three-and-out in its first possession. What followed was a methodical, 17-play, 82-yard drive that drained nearly half of the first quarter and again gave SDSU an early deficit to overcome, a deficit that slowly increased through the first half.

“I don’t think we started out flat, I think we had a great stop on defense,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said of the team’s start to the game. “I thought we had the ball driving on offense but we dropped the football, and then after that we settled back into the mentality we had last week.”

Even with a couple of drives that entered into Illinois State territory, the Jacks failed to respond from an early Redbirds touchdown and punted the ball away. On its fourth possession, sophomore quarterback Thomas O’Brien threw a pass from the SDSU 18-yard line intercepted by Austin Davis, leading to a field goal for Illinois State and a 10-point margin.

“We were having good drives, but we dropped some balls, we missed some field goals,” said senior runningback and Walter Payton award candidate Kyle Minett. “We just weren’t executing.”

Those inabilities to finish drives and execute on special teams in the first half played a part in a late Redbirds touchdown in the first half, making it 17-0 and creating a tepid applause from SDSU fans as the teams left the field.

The second half didn’t immediately alter feelings about an SDSU late-game comeback. After a 68-yard drive into Redbirds territory, another crowd-deflating moment happened when kicker Kyle Harris’ 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked, his third missed field goal on the night.

Illinois State would force an SDSU three-and-out on the Jacks’ next drive, scoring a quick touchdown to make it 24-0 before the end of the third quarter.

“I think that’s tough, but winners, anyone who has ever won anything important has faced adversity and there are no excuses,” said Stiegelmeier, whose teams have started 0-2 or worse in three of the past five seasons. “A missed tackle here, dropped ball here, me not calling a timeout at the right time – you can’t do that.”

The Jacks did not score until the first minute of the fourth quarter – its first touchdown of their season – and against a team that allowed over 45 points a game entering the contest.

By the time SDSU finished a second-straight scoring drive to make it 24-14, less than eight minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Any possibilities of a comeback were virtually erased when O’Brien threw a pass into double coverage for his second interception of the game.

“I really thought we were going to come out and win this,” said Minett, who ended the game with 120 rushing yards. “We really struggled inside the red zone and ultimately I think that’s what lost us the football game.”

Around the Missouri Valley

Five other conference teams squared off in non-conference action.

No. 5 Southern Illinois lost in an upset to Southeast Missouri State 24-21. Western Illinois dominated Sam Houston State 56-14; No.23 North Dakota State beat Morgan State 35-9; Northern Iowa lost a tight game to Stephen F. Austin 22-20 and Youngstown State trounced Central Connecticut State 63-24.

SDSU travels to Lincoln, Neb. next to take on the No. 9 rated Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers are undefeated, beating Pac-10 Washington 56-21. Last season Nebraska beat Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl.

#1.1641450:1653556698.jpg:Senior runningback Kyle Minett staves off Mike Zimmer Saturday.:Senior runningback Kyle Minett staves off Mike Zimmer Saturday. ?I think everyone is disappointed, but the way I look at it is it?s over and done with,? Minett said.:Collegian Photo by Ethan Swanson