VERMILLION —The South Dakota State University defense came up big time and time again in the fourth quarter, holding off the University of South Dakota, 27-12, Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome in the South Dakota Showdown Series.
The Jackrabbits kept their playoff hopes alive with their third straight victory, improving to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. USD, which fell to a ranked opponent for the third straight week dropped to 4-7 overall and 3-4 in league play.
SDSU never trailed in posting their fifth consecutive victory over the Coyotes. The Jackrabbits got on the board late in the first quarter on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Austin Sumner to Jason Schneider.
After USD countered with a 21-yard field goal by Miles Bergner, the Jackrabbits took advantage of a short field to build a 13-3 lead as Zach Zenner capped a six-play, 47-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run – his 18th rushing touchdown of the season. The extra point was no good due to a bad snap.
The Coyotes drew to within 13-6 in the final minute of the first half on a 25-yard field goal by Berner.
USD further closed the gap midway through the third quarter on a 13-yard touchdown pass across the middle to Terrance Terry from Kevin Earl. The PAT try, however, was no good after hitting the right upright, keeping the score at 13-12.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Jackrabbits, who outscored USD 14-0. A 5-yard touchdown pass from Sumner to Schneider on the first play of the final stanza made the score 20-12.
Both of USD's first two drives in the fourth quarter ended with the Coyotes turning the ball over in Jackrabbit territory. Josh Vander Maten was stopped an inch shy of a first down on a screen pass on fourth-and-4, and Kevin Earl was sacked by R.C. Kilgore on fourth-and-11 on the next possession.
In between, the Jackrabbits chewed up more than seven minutes off the clock before a 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
SDSU again had the opportunity to salt the game away, but Zach Zenner, who topped the 100-yard mark for the 10th time this season, was stripped of the football in Jackrabbit territory with less than three minutes to play in regulation.
But on the first Coyote play from scrimmage following the fumble, the momentum swung one final time in the Jackrabbits' favor as Winston Wright picked off a Earl pass on the right sideline and crossed the entire field for an 80-yard touchdown return.
Zenner gained 137 yards on 31 carries, while Schneider finished the day with five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Sumner completed 16-of-23 passes for 175 yards.
Andrew Brown led the Jackrabbit defense with seven tackles.
For USD, Earl completed 21-of-48 passes for 325 yards, with Terry catching nine passes for 115 yards and the lone Coyote touchdown. Jordan Roberts led the USD ground game with 31 yards on eight carries as USD finished with a 384-315 advantage in total offense.
Auston Johnson and Aaron Swift each tallied a game-high eight tackles for USD, with Johnson recording a pair of sacks.
The Jackrabbits close out the regular season Nov. 23 with a matchup at Youngstown State. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Eastern (1 p.m. Central) at Stambaugh Stadium in Youngstown, Ohio.
NOTES: The series, which dates back to 1889, is tied at 50-50-6 … Zenner crossed the 100-yard mark for the 19th time in his career and topped the 4,000-yard mark for his career, ending the day with 4,023 yards … Zenner moved into sixth place in single-season rushing at SDSU with 1,509 yards … Sumner moved into seventh place for single-season passing yards with 2,458 … Schneider moved into a tie with Tyrel Kool (2010) for fifth in single-season receptions with 64 and sixth in single-season receiving yards by a Jackrabbit with 926 … Schneider's nine receiving touchdowns are the most by a Jackrabbit player since JaRon Harris (11) and Glen Fox (10) in 2008 … SDSU has forced at least one turnover in all 11 games this season … the interception return for touchdown by Wright was the first of his career and became the fourth different Jackrabbit player with a pick-six this season … Wright also blocked a field goal attempt on USD's first possession … Je Ryan Butler gained 60 yards on three punt returns, including a 37-yarder that set up SDSU's first touchdown … SDSU now holds a 5-2 lead in this season's South Dakota Showdown Series … attendance was 10,845