Jacks one up in rivalry vs. USD

Adam Zobel

Adam Zobel

Saturday was a day of finality for the Jackrabbit football squad in several senses.

Not only was it the final home game for the 14 seniors on the team, but it also may also been the final game in Brookings for the SDSU-USD rivalry that has lasted for over 110 years.

Like many rivalries, the game was emotional, well-fought and had an uncertain outcome until the final minutes.

It took one last statement from the offensive and defensive units for the SDSU football team to achieve a 27-20 win over the arch-rival USD Coyotes.

The game started out with all the makings of a potential shoot-out as both teams scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions.

SDSU started the scoring in the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dan Fjeldheim to cap a seven-play, 51-yard drive.

USD promptly replied with a six-play, 52-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Jason Anderson to tie the score at 7-7 after the first quarter.

SDSU once again marched down the field to begin the second quarter and retook the lead when Fjeldheim connected with tight end Ryan Lowry on a 23-yard touchdown pass.

The touchdown pass was doubly sweet for Fjeldheim as he established the new school record for most career pass completions.

The old record of 396 completions was previously held by Ted Wahl.

“It’s a good play to do it on” Fjeldheim said.

SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier praised his quarterback for his “tremendous” work ethic.

“He’s deserved that,” he said.

USD would not allow the game to get away from them, however, as they kept up with their in-state rival by scoring on an 11-yard touchdown run by Anthony Tharrington.

Both defenses held for the remainder of the first half, leaving the halftime score at 14-14.

The second half was mostly a defensive struggle as the only score during the third quarter was a 27-yard field by Keith Witt.

USD struck back in the fourth quarter with a 42-yard field goal by Cody Butler.

Witt and Butler then traded field goals again to send the game to a 20-20 tie with under five minutes to play.

After Butler’s second field goal, the Jacks were pushed back to their own 12-yard line by a holding penalty on the kickoff.

Fjeldheim quickly moved SDSU down the field with 18-yard passes to Solomon Johnson and Chris Molitor.

After two incomplete passes, Jeff Hesse caught a pass on third down and fought his way to the USD 40-yard line for a 12-yard gain and a crucial first down.

The next play resulted in an incomplete pass and a second down.

The next first down was made on a run by Scott Nedved-despite the fact that he had run for no yards on five carries so far in the game.

It was yet another brilliant memory in this storied rivalry as Nedved snuck through a small hole in the line and denied several would-be tacklers en route to a 40-yard touchdown run.

“Scott made a heck of a run,” Fjeldheim said.

The coach felt that the play would be a special memory for Nedved, the senior class and the SDSU fans present.

He also gave credit to the offensive line and offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness.

Coach Stiegelmeier said, “It was a phenomenal run. It was a great call.”

“It felt good to get that run at the end,” said Nedved.

The senior running back also said that he was determined to score on that carry, knowing that the team needed a touchdown.

After the extra point from Witt, SDSU led 27-20 with only 2:51 remaining in regulation.

However, as is the case with great rivalries, USD would not go down easily and the Jackrabbit defense would have to make one final stand.

The Coyotes made it a tough task when they got to start their final drive on their 40-yard line after Witt’s kickoff went out-of-bounds.

USD was facing a fourth-and-three from their 47 when it appeared that cornerback Kevin Brown stopped the Coyote threat by tackling Tharrington on a screen pass. A facemask penalty was called, giving the visitors 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.

After a seven-yard passing gain on first down, USD lost its momentum with a bad snap on second down and an incompletion on third down.

On fourth down, quarterback Ryan Justice sought wide receiver Aaron Meline down the middle for the tying score.

However, the blitzing Jackrabbit defense forced Justice to overthrow the final pass for an incompletion, enabling SDSU to seal the win over its in-state rival.

Nedved finished the game with 102 yards rushing on 20 carries.

The Jackrabbit air attack was led by Johnson’s 60 yards and Hesse’s 55 yards, both coming on seven catches each.

Fjeldheim finished the game 27-of-42 for 252 yards passing.

Senior Brandon Thiesse led the SDSU defense with nine tackles and a forced fumble.

Justice finished the game for USD 17-of-41 for 169 yards passing. His primary target was Matt Taylor, who had seven catches for 66 yards.

Tharrington was the primary ground threat with 11 carries for 72 yards.

The Coyotes racked up 139 net yards on the ground, compared to SDSU’s 86.

SDSU had a narrow edge in total offense, 338 to 308 and controlled the ball for 33:32, compared to USD’s 26:28.

Each team struggled with penalties. SDSU had seven infractions, costing them 56 yards while USD lost 102 yards on nine penalties.

Fumbles were another common theme as the Coyotes had five fumbles and the Jacks coughed up two fumbles; each team lost one fumble.

Nevertheless, the victory over USD was a satisfying way for the seniors to end their home season and career at SDSU.

“We knew coming in they always play us tough. The records go out the window.” Thiesse said. “This is perfect for us seniors to send them home with a loss.”

Nedved said, “Just to get this win is huge. It’s a great bunch of guys. I’ve loved playing with them.”

Coach Stiegelmeier said, “This was a big game for our senior class. I’ve been blessed to be around a ton of super student-athletes.”

Unfortunately, it may be the end of an era as SDSU seriously contemplates a move into Division I- a move that USD has rejected- and away from many of its traditional rivalries.

Stiegelmeier reflected back upon the rivalry as he said, “It’s a tremendous game in the state. You can see the excitement in winning and the disappointment in losing.”

SDSU improved their record to 5-3 with a 3-3 mark in the NCC. They finished their home season with a 5-1 record. USD fell to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the NCC.

The attendance at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium was 5023 for the Jacks’ final home game of the season.

SDSU travels to Greeley, Colorado, this week to play nationally-ranked University of Northern Colorado. UNC enters the game fresh off a 29-7 win at North Dakota State to clinch the NCC Championship. They have an overall record of 8-1 and a perfect mark of 7-0 in the NCC.

Coach Stiegelmeier said, “UNC’s a good football team. I was very impressed with their athletic ability. Their defense was stifling against UND.”

However, the Jacks’ coach was optimistic as he said, “Our guys are up to the challenge.”

Nedved said, “We do have some momentum.”