Turnovers cost Jacks in loss to Gophers

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

The SDSU football team was in prime position to knock off the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but the opportunity slipped through their hands – literally.

The Jacks had the ball on their own 18-yard line in the fourth quarter of a tie game, but a Thomas O’Brien fumble set up the game-winning field goal, as the Gophers beat the Jacks 16-13 on Nov. 14 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“I have mixed feelings. I’m always proud of our football team,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “I’m proud of how we compete. I’m proud of the young men in our program and the term student-athlete. On the other end, I’m tremendously disappointed for them. They had an opportunity to win a game in the Big Ten against a Big-Ten opponent. There were a number of opportunities, and we didn’t get it done. I think this one will hurt more than a lot. We need to bounce back because we have some things to play for.”

The Jacks had trouble holding on to the football all day, turning the ball over four times, with three coming in the first half. Even with all the turnovers, the Jacks’ defense kept them in the game. A Derek Domino interception in the second quarter gave the Jacks a 10-6 lead, a lead that was short-lived thanks to another disastrous turnover.

With the Jacks on their own 3-yard line, O’Brien was hit from behind by Minnesota’s Michael Carter. The ball fell into the waiting arms of D.L. Wilhite, who returned it for the score.

SDSU had opportunities early in the game to get up on the Gophers and possibly ride the defense to a win, but a common theme all season reared its ugly head again. The Jacks’ special teams put them inside the Gophers’ 20-yard-line twice in the first half, but the Jacks failed to finish the drive. Tyrel Kool returned a kickoff to the Minnesota 6-yard line, but O’Brien was intercepted.

Saunders Montague returned a punt to the Gophers’ 11-yard line, but the Jacks could not pick up a first down and had to settle for a field goal.

“When … we finish in the first quarter, it’s a different football game,” Stiegelmeier said. “I told the team there are a number of players on our football team who can take responsibility for this. ?We needed to get the ball in the end zone early and we didn’t.”

Even with all the misfortunes early in the game, the Jacks were there at the end of the game with a chance to win, but the Gophers’ defense stepped up. SDSU had two possessions after Minnesota took the three-point lead, but could not do much on offense, as was the case for most of the game.

“Our defense put us in position to win in the fourth quarter, and that’s what we wanted and what we were expecting,” said running back Kyle Minett, who gained 79 yards on the ground for the Jacks. “Offensively, we just didn’t get it done. You can look at one play, you can look at drives, you can look at a lot of different things, but overall we just didn’t execute.”

The Jacks now turn their attention to Western Illinois and earning a possible playoff spot. The Jacks sit at 7-3 and are currently in second place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. A win against the Fighting Leathernecks would all but wrap up a playoff spot for SDSU.

Western Illinois has struggled for much of the season, going winless in conference play, and has not won since the first game of the season way back on Sept. 3. The nine straight losses for the Leathernecks include being on the other end of Indiana State’s first win in 34 games.

A lot is on the line for the Jacks in Macomb, Ill., on Nov. 21. A win would give the Jacks eight wins – no MVFC team has ever been left out of the playoffs with eight wins – and lock up a second-place finish for the Jacks in only their second year in the MVFC.

The Jacks and Leathernecks kick things off at 1:05 p.m. in Macomb.