Jacks down Southern Utah in Gibbs’ return



South Dakota State receiver Cade Johnson finds the endzone Saturday, Sept. 21, against Southern Utah. Johnson caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in the Jackrabbits’ 43-7 thrashing of SUU.

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

After missing the past two games due to injury, quarterback J’Bore Gibbs returned to action Saturday night and led South Dakota State to a 43-7 victory over Southern Utah.

Gibbs, just a redshirt freshman, was sharp for most of the night, completing 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, though he did throw two interceptions.

His return to the lineup also allowed SDSU’s offense to be less reliant on the run game than it had been in his absence. The offense’s 24 passing attempts were more than in either of the previous two contests.

“It’s good to be back,” Gibbs said. “Getting back out here, throwing the ball around with my guys. It felt good.” 

Junior receiver Cade Johnson agreed that it was good to have Gibbs back on the field, saying that the quarterback’s return “definitely” gave the offense a boost. 

“J’Bore played a really good game tonight,” said Johnson, who caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. “It was just good to have him back out there.” 

While Gibbs’ return was the story of the night, it was yet another outstanding performance by the Jackrabbits’ defense that made the biggest difference in the win. The Thunderbirds’ offense took seven trips into SDSU territory but managed just seven points. 

“We gave up some big plays, but when it came down to it, it was kind of that bend but don’t break mentality,” said junior linebacker Logan Backhaus. “Once they got inside the 20, something just clicked. To hold a team to seven points, we’re going to win a lot of games doing that.”

The Jacks’ special teams unit was also very impressive, blocking two field goals and a punt that resulted in a safety — an eight-point swing.

“Special teams played a big role today,” said Backhaus, who blocked a field goal and led the defense with 11 tackles. “It’s one-third of the game, and it’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.

The Jacks got a head start in this win early when Gibbs connected with Johnson for a 30-yard score.

Gibbs was intercepted on the first play of the Jacks’ next drive but the team wasn’t hurt on the scoreboard, as senior defensive end Ryan Earith blocked a Southern Utah field goal attempt. 

SDSU took advantage of the special teams play when Mikey Daniel punctuated an 80-yard drive by scoring from one yard out to extend the Jackrabbit lead. Daniel has now scored a touchdown in each of the Jackrabbits’ four games this season.

After the second blocked field goal of the first half kept the Thunderbirds scoreless, SDSU went on another scoring march that was highlighted by 69 rushing yards and finished with an 8-yard touchdown by sophomore C.J. Wilson.

In a first half where the Thunderbirds piled up 199 yards of total offense, they finally turned their offense’s production into points when quarterback Chris Helbig snuck in from one yard out with 29 seconds left before halftime to pull the score to 21-7.

Early in the third quarter, any Thunderbird momentum was quickly thwarted when SDSU blocked a punt out of the back of the endzone for a safety and senior linebacker Christian Rozeboom returned an interception for a touchdown, giving the Jacks a 29-7 lead less than four minutes after halftime.

That series of events was enough to put the game out of reach, as the Jackrabbits would tack on two more touchdowns before the final whistle.

Backhaus was named the Beef Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player. His 11 tackles led the SDSU defense, and he blocked a field goal.

Looking ahead to conference play, Stiegelmeier is happy with where his team is at but knows it must continue to improve as its toughest challenges are still ahead. 

“We’re 3-1, I’m happy about that,” he said. “But we’ve got to get better. Not because we’re bad, but because that’s the nature of our job.” 

SDSU has a bye next week before hosting Southern Illinois on Oct. 5 for Hobo Day.