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SDSU's Nelson jumps into college debut

South Dakota State University quarterback and Mitchell native Kanin Nelson drops back to pass during the Jackrabbits' game against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Matt Gade / Republic)

BROOKINGS — Kanin Nelson is going to remember the first few times he picked up game action as South Dakota State University's quarterback.

On Sept. 8, he made his college debut in a 45-14 victory over Montana State, and on Saturday, Nelson quarterbacked much of the second half in a 90-6 blowout over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. For the Mitchell High School graduate and redshirt sophomore, it was a chance to play meaningful snaps on the Dykhouse Stadium turf for the first time in yellow and blue.

"It was exciting and it was my first college experience, playing in a game basically and starting the second half out there," Nelson said Saturday after the game. "It was just everything was working well and we were able to do basically anything we wanted. It just helps with confidence and overall with the team, so I was happy with it."

Nelson engineered the Jackrabbits to four scoring drives in the second half against the Golden Lions. That included touchdown passes of 66 and 37 yards to running backs Pierre Strong and C.J. Wilson on respective screen passes. He also had a 29-yard connection with Brandon Valley product Alex Wilde in the third quarter down the right sideline that caught coach John Stiegelmeier's eye. For the game, Nelson was 4-for-5 passing for 136 yards and the two touchdowns.

"I thought he made some really good improvements," Stiegelmeier said of Nelson. "(Against Montana State), he didn't get to throw the football. This week, it was early enough that he was able to make some throws. He made a great throw to (Alex) Wilde on the sidelines and Alex made a great catch. He's growing. Every rep adds to your confidence. Happy with where he's at."

Nelson has also been efficient in the running game, carrying the ball four times for 51 yards this season. That included a 22-yard run against Montana State and a 16-yard scamper against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Stiegelmeier joked that the backup quarterbacks might be calling their own number on option running plays to pick up rushing yards.

Nelson is playing behind senior Taryn Christion, who has lit up defenses in the first two games. So far, he's 34-for-43 passing for 651 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception.

Nelson said the 90 points were the most he's ever witnessed in a football game, adding it always feels good when the offense can score a lot of points.

"We were just focused on executing and just doing your 1/11th every play and making the most you can of that," he said. "We knew we were going to have some good opportunities, so we took advantage of that and put more points on the board every time we were in there."

Nelson and the Jackrabbits (2-0) are off this week, turning to the Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule next, meeting top-ranked rival North Dakota State on Sept. 29 in Fargo.