Sitting at 40-8 through 2 rounds of 8-man. I’ve done worse, but hopefully not today. Looking forward to lowering my body temperature while covering Creighton.
Creighton over Elm Creek: While Elm Creek has an impressive record, Creighton has throttled most of its opponents. A resurgent Neligh-Oakdale team gave the Bulldogs a scare in the second round, but I don’t see that happening today.
Other Games: Fullerton over Hemingford, GACC over Friend, BDS over Heartland
Winners: Humphrey St. Francis over Exeter-Milligan; Kenesaw over Falls City Sacred Heart; Anselmo-Merna over Sandhills-Thedford, Garden County over Maxwell
I will make my picks for the S.D. finals and Neb. C2 semis tomorrow.
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — Issues after halftime have been magnified of late for the University of South Dakota football team, which is still searching for its first Missouri Valley victory this season.
They were on full display Saturday.
Including a second-half performance that saw Western Illinois surge to a 44-29 victory at the DakotaDome, the Coyotes have now been out-scored 66-16 after halftime in their last three games.
And it was something that produced a lot of head-scratching during the post-game press conference.
“We’ve got to come out with a little more fire in our belly and battle,” said head coach Joe Glenn, whose Coyotes (2-8, 0-6) have lost 10 consecutive league games dating back to last season.
Following a rather high-scoring, back-and-forth first half, the Leathernecks held USD to two field goals after halftime. It was reminiscent to a week earlier, when the Coyotes allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter in a loss at Youngstown State.
Asked if the second-half issues were more mental or physical, Glenn couldn’t really pinpoint an answer.
“I’m not very good at those head games to know if our psyche is weak in the second half,” he said. “I don’t sense that.”
He did, though, mention more than once an early third-quarter fumble by Jordan Roberts, which resulted in a touchdown and a 30-23 lead for the Leathernecks.
“That was the beginning of the end, and it’s happened too many times,” Glenn said.
Unlike what they did in the first half, the Coyotes were unable to respond — with touchdowns, especially — after halftime. For example, after Western Illinois went up 30-23, the Coyotes drove all the way down to the 13-yard line but stalled, having to settle for a field goal.
The Leathernecks, in turn, responded with a touchdown to go up 37-26. And the same thing happened again, when the Coyotes hit another field goal and WIU scored a touchdown to close the scoring.
“You have to answer in a track meet like this,” Glenn said.
Asked the same question if the second half issues were more mental or physical, not even junior quarterback Kevin Earl had an answer.
“It’s hard for me to tell,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell you, honestly.”
The combination of bad field position (USD’s average drive start after halftime was the 18-yard line) and injuries (which meant younger guys seeing the field) may have played a role, according to junior Eric Shufford.
“We’ve got to find a way to make more plays,” said Shufford, who caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. “On offense, we’ve got to find a way to convert things, and the defense has to find a way to stop things. And that’s it.”
Another issue, though, was that the Coyote defense struggled to stop the Leathernecks.
Sophomore quarterback Trenton Norvell had had touchdown passes of 12, 34, 22, 12 and 17 yards (all to different receivers), with other completions of 33, 43 and 56 yards.
“We’re not good enough to cover some of the guys in this league consistently,” Glenn said.
Glenn pointed later to USD’s man-to-man defense as an area that needs adjustments — zone is probably the best option, he said.
“We can’t keep giving up such huge chunks of real estate based on one guy one-on-one, and we’re not winning the lion’s share of those,” Glenn said. “So we better think of doing something different.”
The Coyotes will close their home schedule Saturday with a matchup with No. 12-ranked Illinois State (8-1, 5-1), which beat No. 10 Youngstown State on Saturday.
With two games left in the season, USD isn’t about to quit, according to sophomore linebacker John Wessel.
“It hurts, we’ve been close a lot of times,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting. We’ve got to figure it out.
“We’ve got two games left, we’re not quitting.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — When John Wessel says he is “thinking less,” it’s actually a good thing.
The sophomore linebacker at the University of South Dakota has settled into the schemes and has risen to one of two inside starters for the Coyotes, who host Western Illinois on Saturday.
Wessel, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound graduate of Sioux Falls Roosevelt, has played in all nine games and ranks second on the team with 67 tackles.
After seeing significant time as a freshman a season ago, Wessel has — as he says with a smile — started “thinking less” out on the field.
“I’m not worrying about where I’m going or where that guy’s going, just playing ball,” he said this week after a practice. “That comes with more confidence.
“I know what I’m supposed to do on this play, you just have to do it.”
That wasn’t always the case as a freshman, as he was thrown right into the fire of the Missouri Valley Conference, which led to moments of, ‘Oh man, what if this happens?’
“He’s been doing a great job, not only at linebacker but on special teams,” head coach Joe Glenn said.
“He’s a guy that has fun playing the game, very spirited, and is fast and tough,” Glenn added. “He’s a leader, and he’s really been our point man on defense lately.”
Wessel has also been rather consistent for the Coyotes (2-7, 0-5).
He has recorded games of 8-6-7-6-7-10-6-8-9 tackles, and trails only converted wide receiver (now safety) Tyson Graham for the team lead in stops.
It’s not been easy for the Coyote defense, though.
Through the first five league games, USD has allowed 41, 27, 31, 47 and 28 points.
“There’s a process, and we trust the coaches,” Wessel said. “They put up great game plans, and we have to come out and do our best to execute it, because we know they’re putting us in the best possible position.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck. Discuss this story at http://www.yankton.net.
For not having covered a lot of small-school football this year (Most of the games I have attended have involved Yankton.) I could be doing a lot worse on my predictions. I currently sit at 59-9 in South Dakota and 47-9 in Nebraska.
Let’s see if I can keep those numbers up:
Winners: Lincoln over O’Gorman; Brandon Valley over Roosevelt (Lynx have been building momentum since their OT loss to Yankton.)
Yankton over Harrisburg: I expect a few things tonight at Crane-Youngworth. 1) Harrisburg will not turn the ball over 4 times, like they did when the Bucks won 31-8 on Oct. 17. 2) Jonathan Kabambi will get the ball a lot more than he did in that first meeting. 3) Yankton’s defense will find a way, and the offense will do enough to put the Bucks in the Dome for the first time since 2005.
Other Game: Brookings over Pierre
Winners: Madison over Hot Springs; Dell Rapids over West Central (Might be the game of the day in SD)
Parkston over MCM: A battle of unbeatens, but Parkston has the size and speed to counter the Fighting Cougars’ attack. The Trojans may have to work a little bit for this one, but I expect to see them back in the Dome again this year.
Other Game: St. Thomas More over Groton Area (Wayne Sullivan’s team is starting to gain momentum and could be back in the Dome for the first time since 2009.
Winners: Woonsocket-Wessington Springs-Sanborn Central over Kimball-White Lake (WWSSC will take up the entire giant scoreboard with just their co-op name, but they will be there. WWSSC beat the ‘Cats 42-28 in the opener on Aug. 29. It will be closer, but WWSSC should be headed to the Dome.); Gregory over Deuel (Gorillas gunning for trip number 10 to the Dome, 1-8 in previous trips, mostly in 11-man)
Howard over Alcester-Hudson: I would love for the Cubs to pull off the upset and make their first-ever trip to the Dome, but Luke Loudenburg and the Tigers have been tough to control.
Other Game: Wolsey-Wessington over Philip (Yes, I’m showing my East River bias on this one.)
Winners: Canistota over Faulkton Area; Hamlin over Harding County
We will have coverage of all 7 championship games in South Dakota next week. Look for it in print and online.
We also have the Nebraska C2 quarterfinals going on today. Here are those picks:
Hartington Cedar Catholic over Freeman: I went against the Trojans last week and they surprised me on the road (Only first-round game I picked wrong). They are at home this week and, though they are the underdog, this team has shown a little bit of spunk. They might have another upset in them.
Other Games: Battle Creek over Archbishop Bergan; Hastings St. Cecelia over Aquinas Cathoic; North Platte St. Patrick’s over Oakland-Craig
BY JEREMY HOECK
Gaining traction in the nation’s toughest FCS league is proving difficult for the University of South Dakota football program.
With three remaining games this season, the Coyotes have a combined 3-18 record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference since joining the league in 2012.
Winless in five games this season, the Coyotes (2-7, 0-5) begin a two-week homestand by hosting Western Illinois (3-6, 1-4) — another team looking for progress — on Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
At this point a year ago, South Dakota had three league wins and wasn’t that far out of the playoff picture.
“I thought we might have gotten a toehold a year ago, but got a little dose of reality this year,” USD head coach Joe Glenn said Tuesday. “We can’t seem to finish off and get a win.”
Part of the struggles have to do with the schedule, as Glenn pointed out. The Coyotes have played six ranked teams this season, including all three non-conference opponents — FBS Oregon, Montana (No. 11 this week) and Northern Arizona (No. 25).
And then you jump into conference games and see seven league foes ranked in the top 25.
South Dakota has played, statistically, the second-toughest schedule in the FCS. The combined winning percentage of its opponents is .687, which is tied with Indiana State for No. 2 — Liberty (.741) has played the toughest.
The bottom of the Missouri Valley’s pre-season poll is shaking out to be rather accurate, with the exception of last-place pick Indiana State (the Sycamores are 3-2).
South Dakota and Western Illinois were tabbed No. 8 and 9, respectively, but the Leathernecks have found a way to notch a conference win.
“They’re a lot like us,” WIU head coach Bob Nielson said Tuesday. “They’ve had games where they’ve played very well and just haven’t been able to be on the winning side of the scoreboard.”
Western Illinois played 2 FBS games this season, at top-25 Wisconsin and Northwestern, and beat Drake in its other non-conference game. The Leathernecks have since lost its four league games by an average of 10 points.
They did, though, take top-ranked North Dakota State down to the wire in a 7-point game and followed that up by beating Youngstown State the next week.
Much like USD experienced last season, Western Illinois is coming up short in close games.
“In this league, opportunities are one thing, taking advantage of them is another, and that’s kind of where we’re at in our building process,” Nielson said.
The Coyotes also had a chance to pick up a road win at Youngstown State last Saturday, but a 17-7 lead evaporated as the hometown Penguins rallied to beat USD.
“Going to Youngstown and getting a win speaks volumes about their team,” Glenn said of WIU.
The Leathernecks are an improved team this season, regardless of what other people would say, Nielson said, but progress is being made.
“The more you win, the more confidence you build,” Nielson said, “and that’s what we’re struggling with, getting more of those scores.”