Coyotes 24, Bison 21. Yes, really

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

A co-worker jokingly asked me last week, “In what parallel universe do you think USD beats North Dakota State?”

Probably not this one, I replied.

Turns out, USD didn’t need a portal – or whatever science fiction term goes here – to transport to another dimension to beat the Bison. This world was just fine.

Not many objective observers saw the Coyotes, with their 14-game conference losing streak, going up to Fargo and beating the four-time defending national champions. Not in their house. The programs are at vastly different places right now. The Coyotes couldn’t beat the Bison.

For one day, though, USD was the better team. And that’s all that matters. You just have to play better – and in this case, harder, by some accounts – than your opponent for one day, no matter what the level or differences.

Who among us saw this coming?

I certainly didn’t. (My prediction in Saturday’s paper was Bison 41, Coyotes 7. And full disclosure: I didn’t make the trip to Fargo).

There were three long streaks working against USD for the trip north to Fargo: NDSU had won 26 straight games at home (the longest active streak in Division I football). USD had lost 14 straight Missouri Valley games (12 in a row by double digits). And the Bison had out-scored the Coyotes 143-7 in the three meetings since USD joined the league.

Think about that last stat for a second.

A year ago down in Vermillion, the margin between the two programs was 47-7. There was a sense, particularly right after witnessing that beat-down, that the Coyotes might never reach that level. Not necessarily the national championship level, but to the point where they’re beating high-end league teams. (That point was later driven home after USD ended the season with a loss in Brookings).

A year later, USD was celebrating on the turf at the Fargodome.

That was its Super Bowl. Its national championship game. That was perhaps the one game outside of Kansas State on USD’s schedule where you looked and could pencil in a loss. Winning in Fargo? Nah, not happening.

Yet, it happened.

And it was the program-defining win USD has been looking for.

The memories of the 2010 win at Minnesota have long since faded away, given USD’s struggles since joining the Missouri Valley in 2012 – Joe Glenn’s first season. Glenn, a passionate USD alumnus beloved by everyone you’ll talk to, was hired to turn things around. While his influence has been seen in other areas, it hasn’t resulted in wins on the field.

That’s been one of the frustrations; perhaps the guy who wants to see the Coyotes win more than anyone else hasn’t seen the wins come. They’ve been few and far between. USD went 0-8 in league play in 2012, then won three conference games in 2013, only to lose the next 14.

Until Saturday. Until Fargo.

Just how ‘big’ was the win? That’s up for debate. You could point to Minnesota and say that was the ‘biggest’ win in USD history. But you could also make a valid argument for the NDSU win as being ‘bigger’ – given where the Coyotes have been over the last three years.

The way I see it, the only way this truly becomes a ‘program-defining’ victory is if the Coyotes turn it into momentum. Five league losses to close the season would make that win in Fargo a true anomaly. A win in Fargo, coupled with, say, wins over Northern Iowa and South Dakota State would lead you to think maybe USD had turned a corner.

Wins like those could turn into improved success on the recruiting trail. USD would be able to boast to recruits that not only was the program now beating playoff-caliber teams, but that it is building toward that level itself.

What won’t ever diminish is the improbability of USD doing what it did on Saturday. Unlikely? Yes. Massive upset? You bet.

An aberration? That remains to be seen.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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