SIOUX FALLS – Led by seniors Dennis Gardeck on defense and Jason Towns on offense, the #14 University of Sioux Falls Football Team (8-1, 4-1 NSIC South) rallied in the fourth quarter to retain the "Key to the City" with a 21-14 victory over rival Augustana (3-6, 1-4 NSIC South) before 2,955 in attendance at Bob Young Field Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, USF moved to 8-1 for the fourth straight season. The "Key to the City" victory was the Cougars' second straight and fifth in six games in the series.'
According to USF head football coach Jon Anderson, determination and focus carried the day for the Cougars. "We played hard and to the end," said Anderson, who was coaching in his second "Key to the City" game, although it was the first as head coach. "While not everything went smoothly, we stayed focused on our goal and with it another victory," he said.
USF, which has won 20 of its past 21 games, jumped to an early 10-0 lead before the Vikings rallied to take a 14-13 lead after three quarters. But, USF, led by two of Stuart Vanden Heuvel's career-high four field goals and a safety by linebacker Dennis Gardeck, outscored the Vikings, 8-0 in the fourth quarter to pick up the hard fought victory, USF's third straight this year. USF has now outscored opponents, 65-7, in the fourth quarter.
As the clock wound down the final seconds, USF seniors, led by Josh Butler, raced for the "Key to the City" in the north end zone and began celebrating the fifth win in the series. Butler and the senior class were able to retain the "Key" for the third time.
Butler, a team captain who had three tackles and a TFL against Augustana, was part of a defense that has dominated all season and did so again Saturday. Coming into the game, the Cougars ranked in the top-two nationally in six defensive categories, including total defense (236.2 ypg), rushing defense (59.9 ypg) and scoring defense (9.8 ppg). They held up their end against the Vikings by limiting them to 178 yards on 62 plays. Of that total, the Vikings had just 29 carries for 58 yards.
"This was a gritty, determined effort by a group who love to play this game," said Anderson, whose team will head to Upper Iowa on Nov. 4 in Fayette, Iowa. "They stay together and it shows late when plays are needed," he added.
For the second time at USF, Gardeck compiled double digit in tackles as he had a team-high 10 stops, including a forced fumble, two TFLs and his NCAA-leading 13 sack of the season. On the sack, Gardeck also recorded USF's first safety of the season, which stopped Augustana on their final drive of the game.
Offensively, the Cougars leaned on Towns, who recorded his third 100-yard rushing game of his season. For the second straight week, he set career-highs with 29 totes for 154 yards and a TD while recorded a 194 all-purpose yards.
For the fifth time this season, Towns, who now has 606 rushing yards this season and 873 in his career, has recorded a TD of over 40 yards when he exploded for a 49-yard TD run to give USF a 7-0 lead with 7:12 to play in the first quarter. His touchdown romp capped a five-play, 68-yard drive in 2:28.
Midway through the second quarter (5:15), USF built a 10-0 lead on an 18-yard field goal by Vanden Heuvel. The scored capped a 17-play, 89-yard drive which used up 7:46 of the clock. However, the drive typified both the success and frustration by USF on offense against a tough Vikings defense. They consistently moved the ball into Augustana territory but were unable to get into the end zone.
Still, the Cougars had more than a 2-to-1 advantage in total yards at 360-to-178. Led by Towns, USF had 175 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Ian Fieber completed 15-of-26 passes for 185 yards with an interception.
Down 10-0, the Vikings' defense came up big late in the half. Trevor Naasz had a diving interception of a Fieber pass to the right sideline and nearly took it into the end zone. On the next play, AU's Ryan Bradberry, who had 16 carries for 46 yards and two TDs, recorded a three-yard TD run. However, USF's Adria Botella blocked the extra point. It was Botella's second block in two weeks.
The Cougars immediately answered the Vikings' score with a 26-yard field goal by Vanden Heuvel for a 13-6 lead with just 18 ticks left on the first half clock. Key plays in the 64-yard drive was a 25-yard run by Towns and a 21-yard pass reception by Anthony Holmes, who had a team-high six receptions for 81 yards.
AU took the lead with 6:14 left in the third quarter on another three yard TD run by Bradberry. The score was set up on a busted gadget play that result in a 31-yard reception by Tyler VanVoorst off a wide receiver throw from Matt Fujinami. The pass was up for grabs and was deflected by USF's Austin Schaffer and into the waiting arms of VanVoorst.
After a USF penalty moved the ball to the USF six-yard line, the Vikings scored after consecutive carries from Bradberry. The Vikings chose to go for two and, after a pair of pass interference calls on the Cougars, took a 14-13 lead on another Bradberry run.
The determined Cougars were not to be denied Towns helped set up the Cougars for the go-ahead and eventually game-deciding score. He had a 12-yard punt return to the AU 39 yard line. With the benefit of a pass interference, USF moved inside AU's 25-yard line and two plays later, Vanden Heuvel knocked in a 43-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead with 14:05 to play in the fourth quarter.
With a lead in the fourth quarter, USF has finished, holding an 8-0 mark in 2017. The Cougars have outscored opponents, 65-7 in the final quarter. After stopped the Vikings on the ensuing drive, the Cougars had a 10-play, 61-yard drive, capped by Vanden Heuvel's 20-yard field goal for a 19-14 lead with 6:04 to play. Vanden Heuvel had a big day for USF with his four field goals and two punts placed inside the 20-yard line. On his field goal kicking, the senior has made 14-of-18, including the last seven straight. He is also 6-of-6 on field goals over 40 yards and set a school record in career punt yardage with 7,752. He surpassed Drew Anderson who had 7,605 punt mark in punting yards with 7,605 from 2004-08.
After the go-ahead score by USF, the Cougars clamped down on the Vikings' offense, which was able to generate just one first down the rest of the way.
When Vanden Heuvel's punt trapped AU inside their own one-yard line, the stage was set for Gardeck's big play. With 1:07 on the clock, Gardeck sacked Gage McClanahan who stepped out of the end zone on the play as USF took a 21-14 lead. AU tried an onside kick but senior tight end Nicholas Stanke recovered the ball and with it sealed another USF win in the "Key to the City" series.
~ USF defense finished with its 31 sack of the season and added four more TFLs (73 on the season) along with two forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
~ The Cougars have been dominant in stopping the run while being successful on the ground. After nine games, USF has a 1,806-to-advantage on the ground, which breaks out to 200.7 yards to just 59.7 for the opponents. In terms of yards per game, USF averages 4.3 and hold foes to 1.8 per tote.
~ USF has held an opponent to 14 points or less for the seventh time in eight games.
~ In the NCAA DII era, USF has had eight or more wins five times in six years.
Box Score -- http://siouxfalls_ftp.sidearmsports.com/custompages/stats/football/2017/usffb09.htm