MACOMB, Ill. (USD) — Western Illinois quarterback Connor Sampson passed for a career-high 368 yards and orchestrated three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to rally the Leathernecks to a 38-34 win against South Dakota Saturday at Hanson Field.
The two teams combined for 378 yards and five touchdowns during a fourth quarter that had five lead changes. The Coyotes took a 34-31 lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Austin Simmons to Caleb Vander Esch with 1:24 remaining. Western Illinois countered with a 9-yard touchdown run by Clint Ratkovich with 34 seconds left. South Dakota reached the WIU 31 with 16 ticks to go before Eric Carrera intercepted Simmons near the goal line to cement the win.
South Dakota (3-6, 2-3 MVFC) ran a program-record 107 plays, totaled a program-record 37 first downs, rushed for 304 yards, totaled 578 yards, and blocked a punt, but couldn’t win the scoreboard. The Coyotes lost the turnover battle 2-0 and committed 14 penalties for 160 yards.
Simmons completed 25 of 45 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 79. Kai Henry set a career-best rushing total for the second week in a row. He ran a career-high 30 times for 145 yards. Canaan Brooks added 69 yards on the ground. His 9-yard touchdown run on a 3rd-and-6 play gave the Coyotes a 27-24 lead with 7:50 remaining.
Sampson completed 31 of 50 passes and threw three touchdowns for an offense that set season highs for points and yards (492). He connected with George Wahee on a short crossing route that went for a 51-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-5 call with less than five minutes remaining. That play gave the Leathernecks a 31-27 advantage. It came four plays after South Dakota was stopped on a 4th-and-1 run from the WIU 43.
South Dakota totaled 303 yards in the first half, but took just a 17-7 lead into halftime. The Coyotes were denied on two plays from the WIU 17 that resulted in a turnover on downs, settled for 3 after having a 1st-and-goal from the 4, and lost a fumble on another drive in Leatherneck territory. Then, after Jake Matthew blocked a WIU punt to begin the third quarter, USD was called for holding twice and had to take another 3 from Mason Lorber for a 20-7 advantage.
Those openings were just enough for Western Illinois (1-8, 1-4) to break through. They scored on five of their final six possessions to close the game including four touchdowns.
Saturday marked the final outdoor game of the season for the Coyotes, who return home to host Youngstown State at 2 p.m. Saturday inside the DakotaDome. South Dakota will play two of its final three games in Vermillion.