VERMILLION, S.D.—Travis Theis carried 26 times for a career-high 190 yards and two touchdowns to lead No. 15/21 South Dakota to a 38-7 win against Murray State on Dakota Days Saturday inside the DakotaDome.
It was the first meeting between the two programs and the first road trip inside the Missouri Valley Football Conference for newcomer Murray State. South Dakota (4-1, 2-0 MVFC) improved to 7-0 on homecoming under coach Bob Nielson and have won 18 of their last 22 Dakota Days contests.
Theis led an offense that scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and racked up a season-high 458 yards of offense. Redshirt freshman running back Charles Pierre Jr. earned his first collegiate carries and totaled 80 yards while reaching the end zone on runs of eight yards and 10 yards. Quarterback Aidan Bouman passed for 195 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s nice to have a good crowd and I’m really proud of our guys,” said Nielson. “We played what I refer to as very complimentary football. Offensively, we were really efficient. Defensively, we did a great job of keeping them from driving the football. Our kicking game did a good job of helping with field position.
“There were some areas where we showed improvement today and that’s got to continue to be our goal as we head into the meat of the Valley schedule.”
Murray State (2-3, 1-1) quarterback DJ Williams passed for 157 yards and ran for 42. He scrambled and found running back Q’Daryius Jennings for a 56-yard touchdown connection with 10 minutes left in the first half that cut South Dakota’s lead to 14-7. Jennings caught two passes for 64 yards.
South Dakota answered with a 25-yard touchdown run by Theis that capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive that made it 21-7 with five minutes remaining in the second quarter. It marked the Coyotes’ 11th touchdown drive out of 14 dating back to the start of game three against Lamar.
The play of the game came with five minutes left in the third quarter. Murray State forced a 3-and-out and a short Coyote punt gave the Racers 1st-and-10 from USD’s 35 with the score still 21-7.
Murray State running back Jawaun Northington took a 1st-and-10 handoff from the 12 and reached the 2, but Coyote cornerback Shahid Barros hit him low, safety Dennis Shorter hit him high and Northington lost the football. USD linebacker Stephen Hillis recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. South Dakota’s offense marched the other way and used a 33-yard field goal from Will Leyland to make it a three-score game early in the fourth quarter.
“That was a huge play,” said Nielson. “It was a big hit. They were headed into the end zone and could’ve made that game a real dogfight down the stretch. When you make a big play like that, the momentum really flipped and we were able to put a big drive together there and the next thing you know the game is completely separated.”
South Dakota hoarded the ball for nearly 19 minutes in the second half and possessed it for 36 minutes during the game. The Coyotes were 6-of-10 on third down compared to 2-of-8 for the Racers. USD has punted three times in its last three games.
In addition to Pierre’s production, the Coyotes got four catches for a team-high 53 yards from Tristan Michaud and two catches for 35 yards from Javion Phelps. Four of those six catches went for first downs. Michaud and Phelps had one catch apiece entering play Saturday.
Hillis had a team-high six tackles to go with his fumble recovery. Fellow linebacker Brock Mogensen got his second collegiate interception. Pressure and a deflection from Brendan Webb on Williams forced the interception, which came with less than six minutes to go and setup the Coyotes’ final touchdown.
South Dakota stays home to host Youngstown State next Saturday in a 1 p.m. kick.