Lujan keys Jackrabbit comeback in reserve role

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

Someone forgot to tell the University of South Dakota that they’re the little brother in this rivalry. The Coyotes gave the Jackrabbits all they could handle in Vermillion, S.D. last Saturday as the Jacks strutted out of the DakotaDome with a 30-23 victory.

USD led 20-10 headed in the fourth quarter, but a late rally, led by reserve quarterback Zach Lujan, running back Kyle Paris and a pick-six by safety Nick Farina, ripped off 20 unanswered points to give the Jackrabbits their third straight win on the year and help solidify their position at the top of the rankings in the FCS.

“I thought it was a battle,” SDSU Head Coach John Stiegelmeier said. “They played really good defense… it wasn’t until he [Farina] crossed the goal line that I felt the momentum really changed.”

A 40-yard pass from USD quarterback Ryan Saeger to Brandt Van Roekel made it 7-0 ‘Yotes early, but the Jacks responded with a field goal and a ten-yard rushing touchdown from starting freshman quarterback Taryn Christion to take a 10-7 lead into halftime. The rushing score was the highlight of a tough day for Christion, as he totaled just seven yards on six rushes and went 9-for-19 passing for 153 yards and an interception.

Saeger took in a one yard score and USD added two field goals to take a 20-10 lead, but with Christion giving way to Lujan for the fourth quarter, the Jacks were far from done.

“[Going into the fourth] Our message was the same as it’s been for 19 years. When you take the field, you have a chance to affect the football game, and there were some big plays in the game that allowed us to get back in it,” Steigelmeier said. “We preach ‘play like it’s your last play,’ which is impossible to do, but why not try to do it. I think our guys did that in the fourth quarter.

Lujan launched a 34-yard completion to Jake Wieneke to kick off a quarter-opening drive that culminated in the first of two two-yard scores for Paris on the ground. The next drive, Lujan found Wieneke for eight and 38-yard completions to set up Paris’ second touchdown that put SDSU ahead for good.

For the day, Lujan would go 6-for-8 for 128 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

“Zach played pretty close to perfect, both in the environment and in having to come off the bench,” Stiegelmeier said.

Farina took a pick off Saeger 43 yards to the house, though the Jacks missed the extra point, giving USD a chance to come back after they kicked a field goal with 3:41 remaining and forced the Jacks to punt with 1:55 left. But SDSU’s defense would force a turnover on downs to secure the win. 

“What a great environment. What a great football game and what a great rivalry,” Stiegelmeier said “And I thought the fans were first class, I really did.”

The win sets up the Jacks for their regular season finale at Western Illinois University this Saturday. With a win, the Jacks will finish the season 9-2 and have a great chance at securing a top-8 seed in the FCS playoffs.

A top-8 spot means a first round bye and guarantees a home game, though the Jacks will play all of their home playoff games at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls.