CFB: Cougars Lose Heartbreaker at Winona State

WINONA, Minn. -- Sports certainly has way of bouncing emotions and outcomes. A week after winning one of the most memorable games in school history (27-24 over Concordia St. Paul) in the final seconds, the No. 14 University of Sioux Falls Football Team (1-1, 1-1 NSIC) was in position to win another game late against No. 15 Winona State but fell short in a 16-15 setback at Altra Federal Credit Union.

After a Winona State punt was downed inside USF's one-yard line, senior wide receiver Michael Maxwell hauled in a career-best 78-yard yard reception down the right sideline, nearly breaking Caden Walter's throw for the go-ahead score. However, he was caught at the WSU's 23-yard line. Three plays later, an attempt for a potential game-winning field goal was offline and the Warriors then ran out the clock to defeat USF for a second straight season.

The loss also snapped a 17-game NSIC road winning streak, which had dated back to 27-14 loss at Minnesota State on Nov. 1, 2014. WSU now has a 4-3 edge in the all-time series with USF, winning for a second-time by one point. On Oct. 6, 2012, WSU defeated USF, 10-9, in the first-ever meeting between the schools. Also of note, this is the first time the two NSIC South Division schools have played in a month other than October.

"I certainly thought we had a lot of opportunities and while we turned some of them into points, we missed out on other chances," said USF Head Football Coach Jon Anderson, whose team will host Southwest Minnesota State at 6 p.m., on Saturday, Sept. 15 on Military Appreciation Day at Bob Young Field. "It was a hard fought game that we unfortunately didn't win. But our guys battled all day. We will learn from this and rebound," he said.

In one of the top DII games of the weekend, USF and WSU battled through a defensive battle, which was sprinkled by solid running games, assorted big plays and missed opportunities, which included four combined missed field goals.

USF was led by junior running back Gabriel Watson, who had another notable game with 29 carries for 172 yards and a TD. He helped USF compiled 226 rushing yards and 355 yards in total offense on 63 plays for 5.6 yards per play. Through two games, Watson has 56 carries, including just two for loss (minus five yards), for 372 yards and four TDs for an average of 6.6 yards per carry.

Junior running back Colton Myles added 65 yards on six carries. USF quarterback Caden Walters was 11-of-21 for 129 yards with a TD and an interception. Meanwhile Maxwell finished with three catches for a career-high 90 yards.

USF led, 7-0, at halftime when a 57-yard run by Myles, who had six carries for 65 yards, set up a two-yard TD throw from Walters to Sigg with 3:24 to play in the first quarter. The TD throw by Walters, which was the second of the year to Sigg, culminated a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive that used 5:33 off the clock.

Early in the second half, WSU rallied as they took advantage of bad field position by USF, in which USF stepped out of bounds at their own two-yard line on the opening kickoff. Subsequently, WSU's Devon Moore trapped Watson in the end zone for a safety. Then, WSU used an 11-play 62 yard scoring drive to take the lead on quarterback Owen Burke's 11-yard TD pass to Greg Rooney for a 9-7 lead with 9:25 to play in the third quarter.

From that point, both defenses held firm as WSU took a 9-7 lead to the fourth quarter. USF's defense which forced four turnovers on the day (two interceptions and two fumble recoveries), stepped up in the fourth quarter. A strip sack from junior defensive end Ricky Powell (two tackles, sack, forced fumble), which Michael Enalls recovered at WSU's 22-yard line. From there, USF re-took the lead quickly, going 22 yards on three plays, capped by a nine-yard TD run from Watson. USF opted to go for the two-point conversion and were successful when Walters found a wide open Sigg in the right flat of the end zone. The conversion provided USF with a 15-9 lead.

However, Burke, who completed 16-of-29 passes for 203 yards and two TDs with two interceptions, had an answer. He connected on a 39-yard TD strike to Tanner Gran and with Paul Ortiz's conversion, WSU led 16-15 with 11:07 to play.

USF had two more opportunities to take the lead. With 3:14 they began their final drive that ended inside WSU's 25-yard line and had the WSU faithful holding their breath.

"I think we played well enough to win the game but we just didn't finish it off when we could have," said Anderson. "We win as a team and lose as a team. We will learn from this."

Notes –
~ Michael Maxwell's 78-yard reception was a career-best. It was the longest pass play since Luke Papilion connected with Brady Rose on an 84-yard TD pass against Concordia-St. Paul on Oct. 31, 2015 in St. Paul, Minn.
~ USF punter Thomas Chapin had a career day with six punts for 271 yards and a 45.2 average. He had a long of 52 yards.
~ In his first game since the 2017 opener when he played just one play, senior linebacker Trevor Coleman had a team-high nine tackles, including seven solo stops.
~ Brody Grantham had six tackles and a fumble recovery and now has a team-high 15 tackles in two games.
~ Sophomore defensive back Hakeem Johnson, who had three tackles, also registered his first career interception. Shaunard Harts added four tackles with his second career interceptions.
~ Through two games, USF owns a 217.0-to-134.0 advantage in rushing yards and a 379.5-to-353.5 edge in total yards. The Cougars also have a 6-4 advantage in forced turnovers.