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Slow start, turnover woes sink South Dakota in FCS playoff game with Southern Illinois

Coyotes committed four turnovers to finish the season at 7-5.

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Southern Illinois’ Qua Brown intercepted University of South Dakota’s Camp Carson’s throw in the endzone to Brett Samson during the FCS playoff game on Saturday, Nov. 27 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Branden Hull / Republic)

VERMILLION -- The University of South Dakota’s first-half misfortunes derailed them into a 22-10 loss to Southern Illinois in the first round of the FCS playoffs at the DakotaDome.

USD struggled in the first half going 0-4 on third down and only picked up three first downs. The Coyotes had a total of 66 yards against Southern Illinois, with 12 fewer first downs than the Salukis and 157 less total yards.

“They played good defense,” USD head coach Bob Nielson said. “I’m not sure we executed real well up front offensively but give them some credit. They have a couple of good, really good defensive lineman and we didn’t do a good job of keeping ourselves on schedule offensively. We struggled converting third downs and keeping drives alive. It seemed like we were always third and long and they were always third and short.”

In the Coyotes’ first five possessions, they punted four times and threw one interception. In the second quarter, USD had the ball for a total of 2 minutes and 10 seconds, managing four plays for one yard. For the Salukis’, coming out of the first quarter with a 3-0 lead, their opening drive of the second quarter lasted six minutes and 49 seconds for 15 plays and a touchdown. They followed that up with another drive for nearly six minutes that resulted in a field goal, giving them a 13-0 lead at halftime.

On its opening drive of the third quarter, USD picked up three first downs on its first four plays, finally beginning to heat up. They managed to march their way down to the Southern Illinois 4-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in the endzone and had to settle for a field goal. The Salukis would immediately answer back with a 41-yard field goal, extending the lead back to 13.

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At the start of the fourth quarter, the Coyotes capped a 13 play, 87 touchdown drive as Travis Theis rushed for a 2-yard touchdown and cut the lead to six. On the following drive for SIU, Nic Baker connected with Avante Cox for a 48-yard completion that led to a Romeir Elliott 5-yard touchdown run.

“We finally got the crowd into it and it was really positive,” Nielson said. “But give Illinois some credit again, they put together a nice drive and had a big play in there. They put it back to a two-score lead and that probably took a little wind out of our sails again.”

USD had two turnovers on its final two drives and the Salukis cruised until the clock hit zero, advancing to the second round of the FCS playoff to face North Dakota State.

Baker led the way for Southern Illinois completing 21 of his 30 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. Elliott had 17 carries for 68 yards and one touchdown. Qua Brown had two interceptions and Clayton Bush had one.

For the Coyotes, Carson Camp went 19-of-31 for 202 yards passing. Nate Thomas had 12 carries for 62 yards while Theis had seven carries for 28 yards, along with the lone touchdown. Jack Cochrane led all defensive players in tackles with 12. Despite the loss in their second FCS playoff appearance, Nielson said the loss can be looked at as valuable and extremely motivational for next season.

“If you want to get in the playoffs, there’s no experience better than getting in the playoffs,” Nielson said. “It sets a standard that guys want to get back to … You could hear a pin drop in that locker room after the game. I think part of that was the fact that we want this to be something that we’re celebrating next year.”

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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