Jacks look for first win of 2019 against LIU

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

After dropping its season-opening contest last week, the South Dakota State University football team will look to get in the win column Saturday against Division I newcomer Long Island University.

The third-ranked Jackrabbits fell just short in a 28-21 loss at the University of Minnesota but could build on a streak of home-opening victories that dates back to 2010.

Miscues cost the Jacks against the Golden Gophers. Two turnovers by first-year starting quarterback J’Bore Gibbs led to 15 Gopher points, and a holding penalty negated a 99-yard kickoff return score by redshirt junior wide receiver Cade Johnson. 

Head coach John Stiegelmeier and the Jackrabbits are not dwelling on the errors that led to last week’s loss but instead choosing to learn from them and move forward.  

“It’s more positive than negative,” Stiegelmeier said. “We can eliminate turnovers, we can eliminate that penalty, we can make a play on the ball at the end of the first half. . . That’s our approach with everything is to be positive.” 

In his first career start last week, Gibbs was 13-of-26 passing for 193 yards and a touchdown, but an interception after halftime and a fourth-quarter fumble proved to be costly mistakes. Overall, Gibbs’ first performance impressed his head coach but Stiegelmeier knows he has room to grow.

“I thought he performed beyond what we thought he would,” Stiegelmeier said of his young quarterback. “Again, the mistakes we have to eliminate, but he’s got the ball in his hand all the time so who’s going to make a mistake? It would have to be him, many times … This week he’s going to get better. That’s really been our focus for our entire football team.” 

Having not played last week, Saturday’s season opener will mark the Division I debut for the visiting Sharks as they made the jump from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision. LIU joined the Northeast Conference, which also includes a Duquense team that lost 51-6 in Brookings last December.

The university previously claimed two separate athletic programs known as LIU Post and LIU Brooklyn before merging and making the transition to Division I. While LIU Brooklyn discontinued its football team in 1940, LIU Post boasts the 14th winningest football program in D-II history.  

LIU Post made the D-II playoffs in three of the past six seasons and put up undefeated regular seasons in two of their last three campaigns. Last year they went into the D-II playoffs as their region’s number two seed before being upset in the first round.

Besides the winning tradition of LIU Post’s program, another thing that the Sharks have going for them is continuity among their coaching staff. The 2019 campaign will be head coach and defensive coordinator Bryan Collins’ 22nd year on the sidelines and offensive coordinator Brian Hughes is entering his 23rd season with the program.  

While it can be a challenge to prepare for an unfamiliar team because of the relative lack of scouting information available, Stiegelmeier looks at the week of preparation as an opportunity for his team to focus on their own growth. 

“[We’re] not looking at Long Island as much because we don’t have any film on them,” Stiegelmeier said. “So we’re more into how can we get better this week and prepare to play our best football.”

Long Island finds itself in a similar position to the one the Jackrabbits were in last week — a smaller school armed with the confidence of a winning history coming to a bigger school’s stadium and looking for an upset. It would be easy for the heavily favored Jackrabbits to look down on Long Island, so the coaching staff is putting the responsibility on the team’s veterans to ensure it doesn’t happen.

“I think it’s really on the leadership of our football team, our captains and our seniors,” Stiegelmeier said. “They’re not guaranteed a bunch of games, so this is one of the 12 games they’re guaranteed. I think they’re going to prepare really well and be ready to play their best football.”  

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. Television coverage can be found on MidcoSN and radio coverage will be provided by the Jackrabbits Sports Network. Additional live coverage will be available on Twitter through @CollegianSports.