VERMILLION, S.D. (USD) — South Dakota’s defense pitched its first shutout since 2019 and the Coyote offense got going in the second half of a 24-0 win against St. Thomas Saturday inside the DakotaDome.

South Dakota (1-1) improved to 19-2 in its last 21 home openers. St. Thomas (1-1), the defending Pioneer League champions who were receiving votes for the top 25, fell to 0-3 against NCAA Division I scholarship teams at the FCS level.

South Dakota junior defensive tackle Nick Gaes led a defensive effort that limited the Tommies to 166 yards of total offense. Gaes posted three sacks, five tackles-for-loss and seven total tackles. One of those was a strip sack in the fourth quarter that led to the Coyotes’ final touchdown. He became the second Coyote since 2001 to record five TFLs in one game.

Cornerback Myles Harden and linebacker Stephen Hillis finished with eight tackles apiece. Harden came away with another turnover. He recovered a fumble off a backwards pass at the start of the fourth quarter near midfield. Six plays later, Will Leyland made a short field goal to put South Dakota ahead 17-0.

Harden forced six turnovers in six games last season. He has two in two games to start this season.

“Obviously the defense played great today,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “They (St. Thomas) want to run the football, we didn’t let them and that’s usually a recipe for success. They never really threatened, and the defense led us today.

“Nick is a very difficult guy to block. It seemed like he was in the backfield every time they threw. He’s a very explosive player, and we were playing shorthanded at that position, so he and Blake Holden had to take the vast majority of the snaps in there. I was really proud of the way those two guys played and obviously Nick had a great game.”

Offensively, South Dakota quarterback Aidan Bouman completed 16-of-28 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Jack Martens on a 30-yard touchdown on USD’s second possession of the game. He extended a play with his feet and hit tight end JJ Galbreath with a 3-yard touchdown on USD’s opening drive of the second half that made it 14-0.

St. Thomas held South Dakota’s ground game at bay in the first half, but Coyote running back Travis Theis earned 45 of his 51 yards in the third quarter and Nate Thomas made a dazzling 25-yard touchdown run in the fourth. South Dakota finished with 106 yards on the ground while the Tommies totaled 33 on 33 carries. Four USD sacks for 30 yards aided those numbers.

“We got to be more consistent in our execution on offense,” said Nielson. “We have to keep finding ways to run the football. Even though St. Thomas has a very good rush defense, we’ve got to be able to run the football when we want to.”

Carter Bell caught six passes for 87 yards. Martens had five catches for 73 including his second collegiate touchdown. Galbreath got his fourth collegiate touchdown and had three catches for 26 yards.

Shawn Shipman ran 11 times for 32 yards to pace St. Thomas. Quarterback Tak Tateoka competed 15-of-22 passes for 133 yards. Colin Chase led the receiving corps with five catches and 40 yards.

South Dakota stays home to host Lamar next Saturday at 1 p.m.