SDSU Gains League Lead with Home Win

Marcus Traxler

The Jackrabbits played at the top of their game Saturday and now they’re at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

With scores from all three facets of the game, SDSU claimed its largest victory of the 2012 campaign, defeating Western Illinois 31-10 in front of 10,727 fans at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. The Jacks, now 5-1 and 3-0 in the MVFC, leads the conference with half of its schedule yet to play.

The Jackrabbits wasted no time opening the game with a bang, all thanks to senior Tyrel Kool. Kool caught the ball in the endzone and broke through the middle of the WIU coverage team, outracing the Leathernecks to the pylon and putting SDSU ahead 7-0 just 13 seconds into the contest. Officially a 100-yard return for a touchdown, the score was the first of its kind since 2007 for the Jacks.

SDSU snuffed out the hopes of the Leathernecks early in the third quarter, when Skyler Luxa picked off WIU quarterback Wil Lunt and ran the ball back 23 yards, tip-toeing the sideline for a touchdown. SDSU took an 11-point lead on the defensive score, the Jacks’ first of the year.

Following a Justin Syrovatka field goal, Zenner put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when he broke off a 60-yard touchdown run, putting SDSU up 31-10 with under 10 minutes to go. His eight touchdown runs this season have covered a total of 469 yards, and an average of 58.6 yards per scoring run.

The sophomore from Eagan, Minn., added to his remarkable season atop the NCAA leaderboard with 171 yards on 19 carries. On the flip side, the Jacks’ defense, led by 12 tackles from Ross Shafrath, held the Leathernecks to 4-of-17 on third-down conversion attempts and held WIU to 60 rushing yards.

Western’s only offensive score of the night came on a second quarter field goal during a 16-play, 76-yard drive that took over seven minutes off the clock, tightening the game to 14-10 at halftime.

Despite the margin of victory, SDSU struggled with what has been their Achilles’ heel all season: the pass game.

Quarterback Austin Sumner continued to struggle, throwing a first quarter interception to WIU’s Martinez Davis, who ran it back 28 yards, tying the game at 7-7. Sumner finished the game 13-of-24 on passes for 136 yards and two interceptions.

After all the dominoes fell on a wild day in the Valley with No. 1 NDSU falling to Indiana State, SDSU stood alone at the top of the 10-team standings at 3-0. The Jackrabbits have four teams — Illinois State, Indiana State, Southern Illinois and North Dakota State — waiting behind the Jacks with one loss in league play.

“There’s only one team in the league without a loss, and that’s South Dakota State and they proved why tonight,” WIU head coach Mark Hendrickson said.

Despite matching the win total from each of the past two seasons, don’t think SDSU is satisfied or calling it ‘good enough.’

“We’re 1-0 [this week] and that’s all that matters,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said, repeating the phrase he’s referenced plenty already this season.

As their star running back noted, there’s a lot of season ahead, starting next week at 1-5 Northern Iowa. The Jackrabbits have not defeated UNI in Cedar Falls since moving to Division I, with their last road win in the series coming in 1978.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get there and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to stay there, but that’s what we plan on doing,” Zenner said.