The crowd was almost a non-factor, the student section was a sea of empty blue seats and the University of South Dakota came to play football.
The Bison suffered a bad hangover from last week’s wild game, and USD (3-3, 1-2 MVFC) beat NDSU (4-2, 2-1 MVFC) 24-21 on a last-second 33-yard field goal by junior kicker Miles Bergner.
Before this game the Coyote kicker had made just four out of 10 field goals.
“It has been a rough year, I’ll admit it,” Bergner said about his kicking statistics this season. “I’ve been having a hard time … (but) I was in the mindset of it’s time to just give it all and do it for everybody else.”
“You could see it coming (from) a million miles away,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said about the conference loss. “I thought we had a good practice on Monday and Tuesday … that’s the frustrating thing about coaching in general: you’re dealing with young guys and the energy just wasn’t there.”
Student tickets didn’t sell out in a handful of minutes like they did on Homecoming Monday for the game against University of Northern Iowa. The general public filled out the rest of the section, though empty seats were found, perhaps because of the game’s supposed lopsidedness.
All the sports “experts” from the Fargo-Moorhead area picked North Dakota State to win the game. One betting service put the Bison as 27.5 favorites. After the Bison jumped out to a early 14-0 lead over the Coyotes, everyone’s predictions were intact.
And then junior USD quarterback Ryan Saeger threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Brandt Van Roekel. Then, about four minutes later, Saeger scored again on a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, tying the game.
“When we were up 14-0, I just didn’t sense there was a lot of energy and emotion on the sideline,” Klieman said.
As expected by the 18,420 fans in attendance, the Bison and senior quarterback Carson Wentz answered, initially.
After a 11-play 72-yard drive in the second quarter, the Bison went into the locker room up 21-14 after Wentz tossed a 7-yard pass to senior tight end Andrew Bonnett.
Wentz finished the game 16-for-28 for 195 yards through the air with two touchdowns and five rushing attempts for 12 yards.
USD’s Saeger matched Wentz’s play, going 12-for-20 for 202 yards and three total touchdowns, despite throwing one interception.
Neither team scored a point in the third quarter, and it wasn’t until 4:47 in the fourth quarter that the first points came in the second half.
Another 8-yard touchdown throw from Saeger to junior fullback Drew Potter tied the game at 21-apiece, and the Coyotes knew they had a chance to upset the Football Conference Series juggernaut and break its 14-game losing streak in the MVFC.
“I wish you could’ve seen our locker room, it was just fabulous,” USD head coach Joe Glenn said after the game. “Now one game doesn’t make a season, but they got a taste of something that feels pretty darn good.”
USD celebrated in the Fargodome locker room, the first time an away team had done so in 26 games. It had been 1,099 calendar days since NDSU last lost at home, then against Oct. 13 against Indiana State.
Klieman said when the Bison don’t win the possession battle, it’s hard to be the winning team at the end of a game.
In fact, USD didn’t only win the time of possession, the Coyotes also out-gained NDSU in total yards 395 to 320 and found a way to attack and beat NDSU’s third-down defense.
USD converted 8-of-13 on third down against the Bison. The Herd were ranked first in stopping third down conversions (20 percent) before Saturday’s game started.
Defensively, the Bison were lead by junior linebacker Nick DeLuca, who finished with 15 total tackles. Sophomore strong safety Chris Board added 11 more total tackles.
And true freshman Robbie Grimsley was fortunate to force a fumble and intercept a Saeger pass to keep the Bison in the game, but the running game wasn’t clicking for the Bison yet again.
True freshman Bruce Anderson had the only rushing touchdown of the game for the Bison and junior Chase Morlock and King Frazier combined for 16 rush attempts for 76 rushing yards.
The Coyotes simply beat the Bison in all aspects of the game.
“Credit South Dakota,” Klieman said. “What a great plan by those guys, great effort (and) I knew that they would come out with that kind of energy.”