BY JEREMY HOECK
Joe Glenn, normally giddy and charismatic, has been uncharacteristically short on words each of the past two Saturday afternoons.
And with good reason.
His USD football team saw a late lead evaporate in home losses to top-10 opponents, last Saturday 38-34 to Youngstown State and Saturday 31-27 to Montana.
In both cases, the Coyotes held a 3-point lead with under three minutes to play. And lost.
Even with all those close losses over the past two seasons, it can naturally be hard to explain just how tough they are — as evident by what Glenn said during his post-game press conference Saturday. It was almost as if he was alone in the room, talking to himself; not really at anybody.
“Just a horrible loss; I can’t even qualify how bad it is. It’s just a shame because it should have never happened.”
Because in each game, in each final stretch of the fourth quarter, USD committed mistakes. Self-inflicted wounds in crunch time that provided the difference from a high-profile win and a deflating loss.
A look at those crucial mistakes:
• Against Youngstown State: USD was flagged for a personal foul penalty on a late hit out of bounds on the Penguins’ final drive. YSU eventually scored the game-winning touchdown.
• Against Montana, USD’s Trevor Bouma fumbled with 6:33 left and his team up 24-17. Matt Hermanson of the Grizzlies returned the fumble 35 yards for a touchdown.
• Up 27-24 with 1:48 to play, the Coyotes kicked the ball to Montana’s top returner Ellis Henderson who had little trouble getting through the USD special teams for a 98-yard touchdown.
It almost gets to the point where you wonder, ‘What else can go wrong?’ USD has corrected many of the mistakes that propped up throughout the season — namely long snapper and kicking (Miles Bergner hasn’t missed the last two weeks).
But just then, something else arises. Bouma, despite playing through injury, has been steady carrying the ball this season. He ran 25 times for 147 yards Saturday, but on one carry, the ball is poked away.
Something like that could have happened in the first quarter or in a game that was already in hand for the Coyotes, and it would have been a minor story; likely not mentioned at all. But the fact that these mistakes have happened in crunch time really magnifies them.
Along the same line, USD could have allowed a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown on, say, the second kickoff of the game and probably survived to win. But allowing such a return when they did was a big let-down for the Coyotes.
And so, taking into account all those mistakes, you can understand why Glenn doesn’t know what to say anymore. His team has competed with and nearly beaten some of the top teams in the country, but they’ve still lost.
That is the next step for the program. Remaining competitive but picking up those wins. Finding a way to beat Northern Arizona (a 6-point loss), finding a way to beat Western Illinois (a 14-point loss), digging deep to beat a Youngstown State or a Montana.
Because, ultimately, this is not the way USD wanted to head into game week with South Dakota State. Not when added attention will be paid to the Coyotes. Not when a sellout crowd is preparing to crowd into the DakotaDome.
Next Saturday doesn’t need any extra story lines. But now the spoiler role isn’t the only motivator for the Coyotes. No, they’ll be more focused on winning. Just finding a win to win, no matter who it comes against.