SDSU ends season with win but no playoffs

Ariy-El Boynton

Ariy-El Boynton

Jackrabbit head football coach John Stiegelmeier got his first victory ever against North Dakota State in Fargo, 25-24, on Nov. 22.

While he was happy for his seniors to go out as winners, he was not satisfied with SDSU’s first season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“One of our goals before the season was to make the playoffs, and I believe in the future we can accomplish that,” said Stiegelmeier.

The Jacks went 7-5 overall and 6-2 in conference play.

A couple of bounces here and there and a few less mental mistakes, and SDSU might have been 9-3 and playing in the playoffs last week.

Instead, SDSU will say goodbye to a senior class who was a “phenomenal group of young men,” according to Stiegelmeier.

“We’ll tell stories about this class for a long time,” he said.

Due to the contributions of the 12 seniors that saw action, the Jacks did better than the experts thought, as SDSU was picked sixth in the preseason conference poll. Instead, the Jacks finished third place all alone in one of the best conferences in the football subdivision.

UNI was the only team in the conference who outplayed SDSU. The UNI-Dome was too much for SDSU, as the Panthers beat the Jacks 34-20 on Sept. 20.

The next time the Jackrabbits faced one of the co-conference champions (UNI and Southern Illinois) was on the road on Nov. 15 against the Salukis of Southern Illinois. Down by three points and nearing the end of the game, the Jacks were in prime field goal range for Peter Reifenrath (who was named the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week against NDSU), as the ball was on the 27-yard line. Jackrabbit quarterback Ryan Berry could not throw the ball away, and SIU took the crown as conference champs.

“We didn’t want to settle for a field goal. We were just trying to be aggressive. We knew we had a ton of time left,” Berry said after the game.

In the middle of the season, in a three-game stretch, the Jacks beat Illinois State, Missouri State and Indiana State by a total of 101 points.

Jacks’ running back Kyle Minett, who had 1,289 yards, was the second leading rusher in the conference behind preseason All-American Herb Donaldson.

Minett said the late surge of offense on the season was due to everyone, especially the players on the offensive line, being healthy.

The Jackrabbits’ season came to a conclusion in a back-and-forth game against NDSU. The Jacks brought back the Dakota Marker even though both of the quarterbacks who dressed for SDSU got injured.

Berry suffered a concussion in the first offensive series in his last college game. The Watertown native played another offensive series until he was pulled from the game.

Then the Jackrabbit fans who were at Fargo or watching the game on television saw the future of the football program in junior quarterback Ryan Crawford.

Crawford managed the game well until he was removed from the game with a broken wrist.

After Crawford could not return, Berry came back in the game after getting clearance from the doctors.

“It happened right away in the first series, and then I just started forgetting things. I guess at one point our running back (Kyle)Minett was calling plays in the huddle,” said Berry. “Then when Crawford got hurt, Coach looked at me and said that I was cleared so I better get in there.”

The senior captain made gutsy plays and threw a touchdown and a 2-point conversion, which were the game-winning scores. SDSU is the first team to win the Dakota Marker contest on the road.

Looking at 2009, SDSU will return seven starters on the offensive side and eight or nine starters on the offensive side. SDSU will return all its special team players.

Next year, the Jacks will have NDSU, UNI and Southern Illinois all at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

The SDSU coaching staff strongly believes that next year the Jacks can compete with any team in the nation.

“I strongly believe that we can compete with many of those teams, but the truth is that we’re 7-5,” said Stiegelmeier.

#1.882135:3771688271.jpg:SDSU_vs_CALPOL_fball_sab-0231.jpg:Kyle Minett (30) of SDSU attempts to break a tackle from a Cal Poly defender during their game on Oct. 18. Minett rushed the ball for 76 yards. The Jacks ended the season with a 7-5 record and were 6-2 in the conference.:Stephen Brua