The SDSU football team started its season Saturday evening by defeating the 10th ranked Chadron State College Eagles 28-15.
The Jacks managed to do this despite producing almost half the offensive yards produced by the Eagles. In fact, the Jacks only rushed for 20 net yards. They saw small but substantial gains by junior running back Scott Nedved eaten away by a relentless Eagle defense that blitzed senior quarterback Dan Fjeldheim over and over, sacking him four times for a loss of 27 yards.
Thus began the post-Josh Ranek era at SDSU.
“I am unbelievably proud of our football team. ? They battled and they made plays,” said head coach John Stiegelmeier.
If the offense was a bit stymied, the Jacks defensive unit made up for it with sharp play that didn’t allow the Eagles to pick up a touchdown after their initial drive.
The closest the Eagles got to cracking the end zone after that drive was the five-yard line, where the Jacks held them back during a four play stand in the final quarter.
All four of SDSU’s touchdowns were set up for them by the defense or the special teams players.
Indeed, senior cornerback Joe Ford scored six of SDSU’s points on a 34 yard interception return in the latter half of the second quarter that put the Jacks comfortably ahead for the rest of the game.
“We were playing man to man. ? Then I turned around and saw the ball go out of (the receiver’s) hands and into my lap,” Ford said. “Then I looked down the field and saw it was our defensive backs against their quarterback.”
The Jacks intercepted three passes for 65 yards.
They converted two of those interceptions into touchdowns, while the third occurred late in the second quarter. The Jacks were unable to convert because they found themselves without a way to stop the clock as they had used all of their timeouts within the first 11 minutes of the game.
Both teams made errors.
In addition to the early use of their first half timeouts, the Jacks committed eight penalties for 66 yards. The Eagles, however, committed nine penalties for 79 yards, including a penalty that overturned a late touchdown that may have turned the tide of the game had it stood.
“We made some ugly errors,” Stiegelmeier said.
The Eagles jumped out to an early lead, as they turned the opening kickoff into a-three- minute-13-second drive that culminated in a five-yard pass into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Jacks, however, didn’t appear discouraged by the early lead. The defense then battened down and shut down the Eagles running game fairly effectively, allowing them very few big running gains.
SDSU got back in the game with an interception by senior Brandon
Thiesse, who set the Jacks up at the Chadron State 28 yard line. A personal foul on Chadron State quickly marched the team to the Chadron 14 yard line. After finding their running game stalled, Fjeldheim found himself pursued in the backfield on third and 11. Heaving up a pass into an open spot in the end zone, Fjeldheim watched as sophomore Jeff Hesse caught up with the pass and gathered it in for the Jacks’ first score.
“He just threw it up there and I just went and found it,” said Hesse, who saw minimal playing time last year, but had 73 receiving yards in the Chadron game.
With the score tied 7-7 heading into the second quarter, Chadron jumped out to its last lead of the game with a 32 yard field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, Chadron botched a punt attempt and SDSU found itself on the Chadron 21 yard line. The Jacks put together a quick and efficient drive, driving to the Chadron five yard line. Fjeldheim then ran the ball in himself, diving over the defense into the end zone.
The Jacks never relinquished the lead after that. Ford’s interception return came 31 seconds later and the Jacks were unable to capitalize on their interception late in the second quarter.
The third quarter was largely a defensive showdown. The Eagles were able to tack on another field goal from the 38 yard line, but neither team cracked the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, SDSU punt return specialist junior Kevin Brown returned a punt 24 yards to the Chadron 16 yard line. Two minutes and 49 seconds later, the Jacks crossed the end zone line for the final time in the game with a five yard pass from Fjeldheim to freshman Josh Davis.
The final score of the game came when the Jacks, backed into their own end zone on a punt attempt ran the ball out of bounds in the end zone for an intentional safety, adding two points to Chadron’s score, but allowing the Jacks to get the ball further downfield.
Thiesse credited the win to his team’s ability to play good defense.
“They came out and did the same stuff we had prepared for,” Thiesse said. “We stuck to our base defense.”
While Stiegelmeier was happy with the win, he had hopes for the future.
“We want to run the ball better, and we will find a way to do it,” Stiegelmeier said.
Fjeldheim had a good game, passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Chadron quarterback Shawn Eisenreich passed for 146 yards and one touchdown.
SDSU running back Scott Nedved ran for 57 yards, while Chadron’s Austin Forster ran for 92. Hesse led SDSU receivers with 73 receiving yards and Chadron’s Zac Jones totaled 75 receiving yards.
On the defensive front, SDSU’s Phil Oksness had seven solo tackles and assisted on two. In addition, SDSU’s Chris Coauette had seven solo tackles and assisted on one. Chadron’s Amos Davis had eight solo tackles and assisted on one.
The game took place in front of 6,176 spectators in SDSU’s Coughlin Alumni Stadium. Kickoff was at 7 p.m.
The Jacks rise to 1-0 in the overall standings. Chadron falls to 1-1.
The Jacks face the University of Nebraska-Omaha next Saturday in Brookings. The game begins at 7 p.m.