Every week, the football team’s philosophy is going 1-0.
The Jacks succeeded and went 1-0 on Oct. 24, but the win was not an ordinary win. It may be the most important win in Jackrabbit football history.
The Jacks downed perennial power Northern Iowa 24-14 on Hobo Day in front of a crowd of 15,523, the fourth largest in Coughlin-Alumni Stadium’s history.
“I think historically, it may affect us outside the region,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “As people look at South Dakota State football from afar and they look at rankings, these things move you ahead. Inside our locker room, I don’t think it changed us. We felt we were a good football team, and we keep trying to prove that every week.”
The win over UNI put the Jacks at 6-1 and 5-0 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play. More importantly, the Jacks finally got the win that may put them on the national stage.
Coming into the game, UNI was ranked No. 6 in country, with its only losses coming against Southern Illinois and Iowa. The Hawkeyes squeaked out a one-point win by blocking two field goals at the end of the game.
“It’s probably the biggest win I have been a part of since I have been here,” senior defensive end Danny Batten said. “I say that because we really respect that team, because they are dominant every year. We never get respect as a football team – never have. That’s our main goal, get respect by beating teams, and we are doing it this year. We have got to keep it moving because there are more good teams ahead. It feels good to finally get a win against these guys.”
SDSU took the early lead, thanks in part to a pair of early turnovers by the Panthers. The Jacks took over both times in Panther territory but settled for a pair of field goals.
The Panthers would make the Jacks pay for missed opportunities. After the second field goal, the Panthers marched down the field, and quarterback Pat Grace scored on a quarterback keeper to put UNI ahead 7-6. The Jacks threatened late in the second, but running back Kyle Minett fumbled on the Panther’s two-yard line and the Jacks went into halftime trailing 7-6.
“(UNI) has a good defense,” Stiegelmeier said about leaving points on the field. “It’s always them against us. It’s not us running plays on air. We had some opportunities. The one that really hurt was the one at the end of the first half when we were on the two-yard line and ended up fumbling.
“There are some teams that can’t handle that. Do we want to do that? No. Do we want to respond like we did? Absolutely, and that’s the positive.”
The Jacks did not miss their opportunities in the second half.
On SDSU’s second possession of the second half, quarterback Thomas O’Brien found Glen Fox down the sideline for a 63-yard score, and then O’Brien found tight end Colin Cochart for the two-point conversion.
But the Panthers had an answer again, as they had another sustained drive and Grace found the end zone to knot the score at 14 apiece.
The Jacks took over after that, as Kyle Harris knocked home a 49-yard field goal and the Jacks would never trail again.
SDSU landed the knockout blow late in the fourth quarter. After a punt by UNI, the Jacks took over deep in their own territory. SDSU responded with a 10-play, 93-yard drive that put the game away when O’Brien and Cochart would hook up for a one-yard score.
“That’s all we talk about is finishing drives,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know how many third downs we had, but we kept it moving. The O-Line was great throughout the whole game, especially that drive. I am as clean as a whistle right now. I didn’t get hit one time.”
The Jacks now turn their attention to Youngstown State. The Penguins are coming off a 27-8 loss to Southern Illinois.
The Penguins are similar to the Jacks in that they have an attacking defense, giving up 289.3 yards per game, and have a balanced offensive attack, gaining 199.7 yards per game through the air and 139 yards on the ground.
“We need to handle their zone blitz package,” Stiegelmeier said. “They blitz three-out-of-four plays in a football game, so they really try to dictate you. If we can handle that, there are possibilities for big plays. Defensively, they are a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They can line up and run power, and then they are going to throw the ball. We need to take the run out of their arsenal so we can defend one phase of their offense.”
Some may consider the game against Youngstown State a trap game, as it comes in between the UNI game and a potential showdown for the conference title against Southern Illinois. But Stiegelmeier does not think the Jacks will look past the Penguins.
“We are going to focus on this week,” Stiegelmeier said. “If we look ahead to the excitement of Southern Illinois, the only way that will be exciting is if we win this football game. Our 1-0 philosophy, our play in the present, all those things lend themselves to focus on this game. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. We put ourselves in position to look ahead and see goals a lot closer than they have been.”
The matchup in Youngstown may also see the return of quarterback Ryan Crawford. Stiegelmeier says that if Crawford is healthy and able to play, he will get the start under center for the Jacks.
“Ryan Crawford, or anybody in our program, if they were No. 1 and they were injured, when they come back when they are healthy, they get the nod,” Stiegelmeier said. “If he is healthy and if he is able to execute the offense, then he should be the starter. I don’t know if it will be this week or next week or what, but that is our philosophy.”
The kickoff for the Jacks and Penguins game is scheduled for 3 p.m. in Youngstown, Ohio.
#1.881297:3639062909.jpg:DSC_0023-2.1.jpg:Defensive backs Anthony Wise (22) and Cole Brodie (21) celebrate the Jacks’ 24-14 upset of UNI on Hobo Day.:Ryan Robinson#1.881296:2390476948.jpg:Football.TheCatch.RG.CMYK.jpg:Colin Cochart (87) pulls in a pass for a touchdown despite interference from UNI’s Terrell McBride (27). The fourth-quarter touchdown gave SDSU a 10-point lead.:Robby Gallagher