Key turnovers sink Jackrabbits in Minnesota

Colton Prince, Sports Reporter

MINNEAPOLIS – After a night full of twists and turns, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits were unable to come out on top and fell 28-21 to the Minnesota Gophers. 

The game was as close as the score suggests. 

Despite trailing for most of the night, things were looking up for the Jackrabbits at the end of the third quarter. After gaining their first lead of the night before the break, Minnesota fans started to boo, and some even headed for the exits. Despite the displeasure from Golden Gopher fans, the tide quickly turned. 

In the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback J’Bore Gibbs mishandled a read option and the Gophers pounced on it at the SDSU 34-yard line. 

“In close games, you always find those plays that determine the outcome,” Jackrabbit head coach John Stieglmeier said in a post-game conference. 

And did it ever.

The mistake breathed new life into the Minnesota offense. After taking over possession, the Gophers exclusively ran the ball. Mohammed Ibrahim capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown, to put the Gophers up 26-21.

In order to put the game at a seven-point, Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck went for the two-point conversion. The Gophers went deep into the playbook and ran the “Philly Special,” a game that the Philadelphia Eagles made famous in Super Bowl 52. 

While that mistake proved to be the dagger, it wasn’t the only one that the Jackrabbits made. 

Near the end of the second half, Cade Johnson took a kickoff return 99 yards, only to be brought back by a holding call. Without the penalty, the Jackrabbits would’ve taken a 14-13 lead into the half break with the ball. 

Instead, the Jackrabbits entered halftime down a score. Things got worse after the halftime break. 

After a mishandled snap, Gibbs tried to force a play. Instead of finding a white jersey, Gibbs found a white jersey in Chris Williamson, who managed to return the freshman quarterback’s mistake for a touchdown. 

“The ball was snapped on the ground, so I was trying to pick it and throw it away,” Gibbs said in a post-game press conference. “… coach was telling me [after] just to fall on it and go on to the next play.” 

Despite the mistake, Gibbs was unphased by the turnover and moved the Jackrabbits down the field on the next possession. To cap the drive, Gibbs found Cade Johnson for a 17-yard reception to put the Jackrabbits at the Minnesota one-yard line. On the next play, Mikey Daniel found the endzone to make it a six-point game with 9:04 left in the third quarter. 

The Jackrabbit defense continued to clamp down on the Minnesota offense and forced a quick punt. 

South Dakota State took advantage of the Gophers’ inability to move the ball and ended up scoring on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Gibbs to tight end Zach Heins. The score put the Jackrabbits up 21-20, for the first and only lead of the game. 

Despite the Minnesota offense being in check – for the most part, Rashad Bateman made a highlight-reel catch en route to a 43-yard touchdown. The play was made in part, due to a defensive back falling on the ground. 

The Jackrabbits out-gained the Gophers 367-308. Despite the offensive production, it just wasn’t meant to be. 

“That’s a very good football team. That is a tough football team. That is a well-coached football team,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said. 

A big part of the offensive production came from the work of the offensive line, who allowed just one sack on the last play of the game. 

“That stings a little bit, the fact that we could’ve won on the road against a Big 10 school,” Stieglemeier said. “The day we win the National Championship, that will feel really good.” 

Up next, South Dakota State will take on Long Island University at 6 p.m., Sept. 7 in Brookings.