Western Illinois running backs J.C. Baker and Nikko Watson combined to rush for 200 yards and a touchdown to lead the Leathernecks to a 24-10 win against South Dakota Saturday at Hanson Field. It was the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams.
The Leathernecks’ (3-2) defense scored their fourth touchdown of the season, recovered two fumbles and held the Coyotes to a season-low 242 yards of offense. South Dakota (1-3) had three points through three quarters and has totaled 53 points in four games.
Nathan Knuffman’s 28-yard field goal broke a scoreless tie early in the second quarter. The Coyotes faced 4th-and-3 and were in punt formation at midfield on the ensuing possession. The snap from center sailed over punter Miles Bergner’s head, rolled all the way to the 15 where Bergner tried to pick it up. When his attempt failed, Kevin Kintzel made the recovery and trotted 11 yards for a Western touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Bergner’s 27-yard field goal made it 10-3 just before halftime. Both teams had 98 yards of offense in the first half.
Watson accounted for 40 yards on an 11-play, 95-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. He capped it with a 1-yard plunge that made it 17-3. Watson had 22 carries for 96 yards.
South Dakota turned to backup quarterback Kevin Earl to start the fourth quarter. The sophomore from Lincolnshire, Ill., accounted for all but the final seven yards of an 8-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. Earl completed passes to Terrance Terry (18 yards), Riley Donovan (16 yards) and Ben Kramer (14 yards) on the possession. He carried twice for 12 yards, and then gave to Jordan Roberts who ran nearly untouched seven yards for his first collegiate touchdown to make it 17-10 with 12:13 remaining.
Baker countered on the ensuing possession. His 54-yard run was the longest play of the game and set up the Leathernecks for 1st-and-goal from the 5. Trenton Norvell hit tight end Joey Borsellino for a 4-yard strike two plays later for what turned out to be the final score of the game with 8:48 to go. Baker had 104 yards on 13 carries.
Earl and the Coyotes were turned away on their final three possessions of the game. An incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 ended the first drive at midfield. The second possession stopped when wide receiver Austin Koch was separated from the ball following a catch and hit by Dallas Nichols at midfield. The final possession netted five yards.
Earl finished 7-of-13 for 88 yards and netted 20 yards scrambling. Starting quarterback Josh Vander Maten led the team in rushing for the third game in a row. He had 48 yards on 13 carries. Roberts carried 10 times for 34 yards. Trevor Bouma ran 10 times for 33 yards.
Western gained 238 yards on its three scoring drives. The Leathernecks ran 37 plays for 76 yards on their other 11 possessions. USD safety Devin Taverna had a career-high 13 tackles. Linebacker Tyler Starr earned his first collegiate interception and had four tackles.
Courtesy: Bryan Boettcher, USD