Backups Take The Reins

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

Next guy up.

That’s the rallying cry this week for the South Dakota State and University of South Dakota football teams, which will both rely on backup quarterbacks for Saturday’s respective home openers.

It was a costly season opener for both the Jackrabbits and Coyotes last Saturday in guarantee games at No. 24 Missouri and No. 3 Oregon, respectively.

Jacks senior quarterback Austin Sumner sustained fractures to three bones in his right during the first quarter, while Coyote junior quarterback Kevin Earl left in the third quarter with a right thumb injury.

Still, life has to move on, according to SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier.

“I don’t feel bad for our football team, because you can’t, but I feel tremendously bad for Austin,” said Stiegelmeier, whose team hosts Cal Poly at 6 p.m. Saturday. “He’s literally the hardest working guy on our football team; the best leader on our team.”

The injury to their quarterback proves the adage the Jacks use on a daily basis, the coach added.

“It reminds us like we say every day in practice, ‘Play like it’s your last play,’ and he does that,” Stiegelmeier said.

Sumner will have an MRI this week to check for ligament damage, while Earl was to meet with specialists Tuesday to see if surgery is necessary — that could happen as soon as today (Wednesday).

The good news for SDSU and USD is that the backup quarterbacks combined to complete 72 percent of their passes last Saturday.

Jacks sophomore Zach Lujan saw the most time at Missouri. The native of Anchorage, Alaska, completed 21-of-28 passes for 239 yards, with an interception.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Lujan came to Brookings after spending one season at Chabot College in California. There, he earned conference player of the year accolades — after being No. 6 on the depth chart in fall practices, Stiegelmeier joked.

“He went to junior college to better his situation,” Stiegelmeier said. “So his mentality was confident and ‘I want to play in these types of games at this level.’”

Down in Vermillion, the Coyotes will turn to sophomore Ryan Saeger, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound native of Hartland, Wisconsin. In two drives at Oregon, Saeger completed 5-of-8 passes for 62 yards.

“One of the better things in fall camp was that we identified Ryan as a backup quarterback,” said Glenn, whose team hosts NAIA William Penn at 2 p.m. Saturday. “He showed great leadership, and an ability to run or throw.

“We’ll miss Kevin a lot, but we’re very fortunate that Ryan came through.”

While it remains to be seen how long Earl is out for the Coyotes, the coaching staff knows Saeger — who missed all of spring drills — can step up and move the ball, according to Glenn.

“We were happy with what Ryan did in fall camp. We’re excited about his opportunity,” Glenn said. “We’ll miss our John Wayne guy at quarterback — Kevin will be dearly missed.”

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