Two of the highest-scoring teams in the NSIC gave fans an old-fashioned defensive battle Saturday night in Winona, Minn. The No. 23 Cougars came out hot, but quickly cooled off, as they were held to a season-low nine points in a 10-9 loss at Winona State University.
USF drops to 5-1(5-1 NSIC, 1-1 South) and WSU moves to 5-1 (5-1 NSIC, 2-0 South).
Tonight's game featured many first time events. Rayon Simmons became the first rusher to surpass the 100-yard mark against USF this season, breaking a 20-game streak which dated back to October 23, 2010.
The other backbreaker was turnovers, which the Cougars had three of, one in the redzone.
The Cougars struck first Saturday. Following a defensive stop on WSU's opening drive, Taylor Perkins used just eight plays to move the ball 76 yards into the endzone. Perkins capped it with a 7 yard strike to Austin VanHove to give USF a 6-0 lead.
Fans wouldn't see much scoring after that, as the teams would go on to combine for five first-half turnovers. However, neither could capitalize on the others mistake.
There was plenty of offense, over 400 yards of it in the opening half. A significant percentage of those yards came from Winona's star running back Rayon Simmons, who racked up 141 rushing yards in the first half alone.
USF's redzone interception just before the break was the first of several momentum shifts.
WSU was fired up and turned the turnover into 76 yards of offense. With 30 ticks on the clock, the Warriors faced a third and goal on USF's four-yard line. The Warriors called on Simmons one more time and USF linebacker Nick Bonte met him in the backfield. Bonte not only prevented the score, but stripped him of the ball to keep the Cougars' lead 6-3 at the break.
After trading possessions to start the second half, WSU put together an 11play 85-yard drive to capture a 10-6 lead. The defining play of the drive was a costly breakdown in the USF secondary. WSU's Tyler Speer broke loose for a wide open 50-yard reception, on third and 19. John Tiegland found Mike Houts for what would be the game-winning score.
Just when it appeared USF was responding with a drive to end the third quarter, Perkins received a hit from his blind-side dislodging the ball, giving the Warriors the ball near mid-field to begin the fourth quarter.
The Cougars would get another break, when Tiegland tossed his second interception with 14:53 left in the game. Michael Frericks' interception resulted in another missed opportunity, as WSU's defense would force a USF three and out.
USF's defense made a key stop on a driving Warrior team near 11minute mark, which probably kept them in the game. They halted WSU's offense on third and 11 in the redzone forcing a 40 yard field goal. Jake Vercher hooked it left, keeping it a one possession game with 10 minutes to go.
That's when the game became interesting.
On a big third and 18 on the ensuing drive, Perkins scrambled for 24 yards and received a late hit for to tack on 15 yards and put USF in field goal position. Three plays later Braden Wieking nailed a 37-yard field goal with 5:30 left on the clock cut the Cougars' deficit to one, 10-9.
That is as close as USF would come. They would have one more shot at it, but turn it over on downs.
USF racked up 309 total yards of offense and allowed 380, 207 yards on the ground.
Taylor Perkins finished 21-39 for 213 and one touchdown.
VanHove tied Carrington Hanna with a team-high nine receptions. VaHove led USF with a season-high 89 yards and the only score, while Hanna recorded 81 yards. Oates had a season-low two catches for 17 yards.
John Tidwell led the Cougars with 10 stops tonight. Robert Virgil finished with eight tackles and one interception, his fourth of the year.
USF returns home Saturday, October 13 for a 6:30 p.m. contest with Concordia-St. Paul.
Courtesy: USF Athletics