Defense, rushing attack lead the way in USD’s win over No. 13 North Dakota

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VERMILLION, S.D. (USD) — South Dakota running back Travis Theis ran for a career-high 138 yards while the Coyote defense shut down all-American running back Otis Weah in scoring a 20-13 upset of No. 13/15 North Dakota Saturday inside the DakotaDome.

The win avenges a 21-10 South Dakota loss in Grand Forks just seven months ago. Weah ran 16 times for 163 yards and two scores in that one. In this one, he ran 15 times for 58 yards and South Dakota outgained the visitors 368-258.

Instead it was Theis and a Coyote offensive line that rumbled for 189 yards on the ground and ran the final 5:52 off the clock. That was after North Dakota settled for three points on a six-minute drive that made it a one-score game.

Hidden in the numbers were the yards after contact for Theis. South Dakota didn’t have a negative run play against a defense that had produced more than 30 in its first four games. Nate Thomas complimented Theis with 49 yards on 12 carries.

“That was a great win,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “You look at the way we were able to close out the game there with what it was, five-and-a-half minutes, and never give the ball back. That’s what it’s going to take to win close games in the Valley.

“I think our offensive line really showed what they’re capable of doing, creating some seams, and then obviously Travis. You know, they have a really good running back, but I’ll tell you what, we got a really good covey of backs and Travis Theis showed you how physical a runner he can be today all day.”

South Dakota took the ball and marched 73 yards in nine plays and got on the board with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Carson Camp to Caleb Vander Esch.

North Dakota went 3-and-out and South Dakota thought it had scored its second touchdown with a 5-yard strike from Camp to tight end Brett Samson 11 minutes into the game. But offensive pass interference took away the score and the Coyotes settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

The Hawks’ only touchdown drive followed. Tommy Schuster hit big gains to three different pass catchers including a 14-yard touchdown toss to Brock Boltmann that made it 10-7 with 20 seconds left in the quarter.

A scoreless second quarter included North Dakota blocking a punt and taking possession 33 yards from the goal. But Nick Gaes sacked Schuster on 3rd-and-6 for a 10-yard loss and North Dakota punted it back.

Thomas was featured on the Coyotes’ opening possession of the second half. He ran six times on a 9-play drive that featured a third-down conversion from Camp to Jaevon McQuitty and ended when Camp found Wesley Eliodor wide open down the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown. It was Eliodor’s first collegiate touchdown catch.

North Dakota got its hands on another Brady Schutt punt and it gave the Hawks the ball at midfield later in the third quarter. The Hawks reached the 24 and got a 41-yard field goal from Brady Stevens that made it 17-10.

Mason Lorber tied South Dakota’s program record with a 54-yard field goal with 12:15 remaining that pushed USD’s lead to 20-10. It tied Mike Kneip’s mark set in 1990.

North Dakota had 1st-and-goal from the 9 with 6:38 left. But Brock Mogensen stopped Weah for one yard and Tre Thomas and DaRaun McKinney broke up passes on second and third down to force the field goal. Theis and his offensive line took care of the rest.

McKinney, who hadn’t played since the season opener against Kansas due to injury, totaled 11 tackles from his cornerback position, all but one solo. He also broke up two passes. Brock Mogensen compiled six tackles. Thomas, Myles Harden and Jack Cochrane had five each.

Camp completed 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards. Vander Esch had season highs of eight catches for 92 yards and the touchdown. He tied Terrance Terry and Phillip Meehan for eighth on the Coyotes’ all-time receptions list with 108.

South Dakota returns to the road next weekend with another key matchup against a ranked team. The Coyotes face Northern Iowa in a 4 p.m. kickoff from Cedar Falls, Iowa. The 12th-ranked Panthers (3-2, 1-1) lost 34-20 at No. 5 North Dakota State Saturday.

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