State downs Drake for third time in four years

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

When a team is playing without its starting quarterback, it helps to have a good running back to rely on.

Or, in South Dakota State’s case — three of them.

Sophomores Pierre Strong Jr. and C.J. Wilson and senior Mikey Daniel combined for 285 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, helping SDSU (2-1) defeat Drake (0-3) 38-10 Saturday afternoon.

It was the Jackrabbits’ third win over the Bulldogs in the last four years — each by 28 points or more.

Junior quarterback Kanin Nelson started for the second consecutive week for the injured J’Bore Gibbs, and while yards were plentiful Saturday afternoon, points were at a premium. SDSU kicker Chase Vinatieri missed two field goal attempts and Nelson fumbled on the goal-line, leading to a closer final scoreline than the offensive numbers might suggest.

“I think we played better (than last week), but I expect we will play better,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “Our standards are really high.”

When Nelson had to pass, he looked to his top receiver, junior Cade Johnson, to step up — and Johnson delivered. The HERO Sports preseason first-team All-American caught five passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, adding a 76-yard run on a reverse to set up his second score.

“I thought Kanin played OK,” said Stiegelmeier. “I thought we put Kanin in some situations where it’s not his forte to throw the deep ball. I think he managed most of the game pretty well.”

Even with the relatively inexperienced Nelson leading the way, the Jackrabbit offense was clicking early, taking their opening possession down to the 4-yard line. However, an otherwise impressive drive stalled there as SDSU had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri. 

After a quick three-and-out by the Bulldogs, SDSU return man Jaxon Janke mishandled the punt. Drake capitalized on the miscue, recovering at the Jacks’ 20-yard line, but was unable to put any points on the board as a 34-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. 

It didn’t take long after that for the Jacks to find the endzone for the first time. Two plays after the miss, Strong Jr. took a handoff and flashed down the right sideline, outrunning the defense en route to a 49-yard touchdown. 

Last weekend against Long Island, Strong led SDSU with just 55 yards rushing. Saturday, Strong and Wilson both topped 115 yards as the Jacks accumulated 369 yards on the ground.

While SDSU was moving the ball up and down the field, Drake took until its opening possession of the second quarter to find some rhythm.

A third-and-six conversion and roughing the passer call brought the ball to SDSU’s 23-yard line. But just as the Jacks stalled on their first series, the Bulldogs couldn’t find the endzone, settling for a 22-yard field goal that cut the Jacks’ lead to 10-3. 

Late in the second quarter, Wilson took a handoff from his own 19-yard line, found a hole and took off. Wilson was eventually brought down after a 52-yard gain, but the damage was done. Four plays later, Daniel punched it in from five yards out to give the Jacks a 17-3 lead which they took into halftime.

Senior offensive lineman Evan Greeneway was proud of the way his line was able to open holes compared to last week. 

“I thought we did a good job,” said Greeneway. “I think we took personal responsibility for that last game. These backs should be able to get 100 yards every game. So we really wanted to be able to block well for them.”

But while the run blocking was much improved from a week ago, Nelson was sacked three times, drawing some criticism from Stiegelmeier.

“I thought they played a little better,” said Stiegelmeier of his offensive line. “But I’m disappointed in the holding penalty and really disappointed in the sacks.”

The Jacks added to their lead early in the third quarter when Johnson caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Nelson after taking the ball down to the. 

Johnson wasn’t done yet. Late in the third quarter, he got open behind the secondary and Nelson found him and connected with a perfect 36-yard pass that made the score 31-3, essentially putting the game out of reach. 

Drake finally found the end zone for the first time in the fourth quarter, but it was too late to make a rally. 

The victory extends the Jacks’ home winning streak to 14. They’ll try to add to it at 6 p.m. next Saturday when Southern Utah visits Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.