VERMILLION, S.D. (USD) — South Dakota opened with four long touchdown drives and was never threatened in steamrolling Youngstown State 56-21 Saturday before nearly 5,000 fans on Military Appreciation Day inside the DakotaDome.
Running backs Kai Henry and Canaan Brooks led a Coyote ground effort that surpassed 300 yards for the second game in a row and for the third time this season. Henry, who carried 13 times for a game-high 130 yards, became the first USD back since Amos Allen in 2007 to surpass the century mark three games in a row. Brooks added a career-best 112 yards on 11 carries. The two combined for three touchdowns.
Austin Simmons provided balance through the air, completing 13 of 21 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters of work. It was the third time this season and fourth time in his career that he has thrown four scores. He also ran for 72 yards including a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Coyote defense produced six sacks and held Youngstown State to 66 yards rushing and 312 yards total. The Penguins entered with the nation’s 22nd-ranked ground attack at 204 yards per game. Joe Alessi, YSU’s leading rusher entering play, ran just four times for six yards. Braxton Chapman gained 43 yards on 13 carries. The Penguins averaged less than two yards a run.
“I’m going to start by saying how proud I am of our guys and our staff,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “We haven’t played the kind of football that I felt we were capable of playing, and we’ve had some things that you’d like to do over, and you don’t get that opportunity in football. It would have been pretty easy for our guys to just say ‘Hey, it’s not our year.’ But our staff did a good job putting the game plan together, and our kids really responded and that was a really good win today against a good football team.”
South Dakota (4-6, 3-3 MVFC) has won two of its last three against Youngstown State (5-5, 1-5), but Saturday marked the first time in eight meetings that the Coyotes have outrushed the Penguins. And the tone was set early. South Dakota ran 25 plays for 307 yards in the first quarter – 183 on the ground – and took a 28-7 lead on Simmons’ 6-yard toss to tight end Brett Samson on the first play of the second quarter. It was USD’s fourth consecutive touchdown drive of at least 75 yards to start the game.
“We were clicking,” said Simmons who passed his predecessor Chris Streveler Saturday for third place on the Coyotes’ all-time passing list with 6,162 yards. “The o-line was doing a great job blocking, receivers blocked down field, those running backs really found those holes, making it happen. Kind of makes it a lot easier as a quarterback when all those guys are doing such a great job out there.”
South Dakota faced just two third downs on those four opening drives. Tight end Connor Herrmann caught all three of Simmons passes on the opening possession including a 13-yard score over the middle that made it 7-0. It was Herrmann’s fourth touchdown of the season.
A career-long run of 50 yards by Henry opened possession two, which was capped by an outstanding throw and catch from Simmons to true freshman Carter Bell on 3rd-and-5 from the 15. It was Bell’s first collegiate score, his third collegiate catch and it came in his third collegiate game.
Levi Falck made a diving snag for 12 yards on 3rd-and-10 to extend USD’s third possession and Simmons paid it off with his 10-yard touchdown run. A 57-yard pitch-and-catch from Simmons to Caleb Vander Esch highlighted possession four and led to Samson’s touchdown.
“It started with the big boys up front,” said Henry, who has totaled 391 yards rushing in his last three games. “They manhandled the trenches. I got to give all the props to them.”
Youngstown State made it 28-14 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Joe Craycraft to Jermiah Braswell with 10:34 left in the second quarter. But disaster struck just before halftime. A perfectly placed Brady Schutt punt hit off a YSU return member and Coyote receiver Randy Baker was able to fall on the muffed punt at the YSU 2. Henry ran in from there to give South Dakota a 35-14 lead.
Brooks’ 14-yard touchdown run opened the second half and extended the lead to 42-14. Henry’s 1-yard plunge later in the third made it 49-14.
South Dakota played turnover free for the first time this season, and defensively got a team-high seven tackles from linebacker Jack Cochrane including a sack and one of 12 USD tackles-for-loss. Senior co-captain DeValon Whitcomb had two sacks, upping his tally to five this season. Jake Matthew, Jackson Coker and Kameron Cline each got one as well. All six sacks came in the second half.
South Dakota next takes on top-ranked and unbeaten North Dakota State (10-0, 6-0) next Saturday in a 2:30 p.m. kick inside the Fargodome. The Bison topped Western Illinois 57-21 Saturday in Fargo.