The University of Sioux Falls Football Team rolled up 616 yards in total offense and shut down the explosive Upper Iowa offense in recording a 34-7 victory in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action on Saturday before 1,439 in attendance at Bob Young Field.
The victory assured USF of a winning season for the 25th straight year, which is a mark that ranks among the top five across all levels of NCAA football. USF's consecutive string of winning seasons was started with legendary head coach Bob Young in 1994 and has continued under his protégé and head coach Jon Anderson.
"I am really proud of the fight in this team," said Anderson, who is 15-6 in his second season at USF. "We had another outstanding performance on offense and the defense really shined," added Anderson, whose team defeated the Peacocks for a fifth consecutive time and improved to 68-9 all-time at Bob Young Field.
USF, which held a 36:06-to-23:54 time of possession advantage, opened up a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The Cougars, which held a 421-to-93 total yards edge in the first half, cruised to a 31-0 advantage at the break. The Peacocks put up a touchdown in the fourth quarter but it was too little too late.
NCAA DII rushing leader Gabriel Watson continued his outstanding 2018 season with 29 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns. With that total, he has become the third player in USF history to reach 1,700 rushing yards in a season. Through nine games, he has 210 carries for 1,702 yards with 23 touchdowns.
On USF's career season rushing chart, Watson, who was named D2Football.com National Offensive Player of the Week on Thursday, is third and needs 66 yards to pass the season rushing leader Max Mickey, who had 1,764 yards in 2016. With 25 yards, Watson can moved into second on the USF all-time season chart as David Ruter had 1,726 yards in 1996. With his two touchdowns, he has tied Mike Dvoracek for second on the all-time USF season's list with 23. He is six touchdowns behind Ruter, who had a school record 29 in 1998.
Watson also extended his school record 100-yard rushing game streak to nine straight games. In those nine games, he has recorded more than 200 rushing yards three times and reached at least 150 yards seven times. Additionally, Watson, who has already won three NSIC Offensive Player of the Week honors, is 277 yards away from the all-time NSIC season rushing mark of 1,979 yards by Tyler Tonderum of Southwest Minnesota State.
However, Watson was just part of a balanced offense for USF, which totaled 616 yards on 79 plays (7.8 yards per play). USF had 333 rushing yards on 52 carries with 283 passing yards. With the 333 yards rushing, USF surpassed 300 yards or more for the fifth time this season, which is the second-best total in the DII era (2016, seven times).
Junior running back Colton Myles provided 13 carries for 84 yards and a two-yard touchdown run and pushed his season totals to 100 carries for 645 yards and five touchdowns.
Against UIU, Quarterback Caden Walters had his best day at USF. He completed 21-of-27 passes for a career-best 283 yards and threw a touchdown pass. The primary targets for Walters was sophomore Ty Smith and senior wide receiver Michael Maxwell.
Smith had a career-high eight catches for 94 yards as he reached 90 yards receiving in a game for the third time in his career. Maxwell tied a career-best with seven catches (St. Cloud State, 7-64-TD) for a career-best 128 yards with a TD.
Another key contributor for USF was kicker Mason Laramie, who converted four extra points along with two field goals. He made both a 30-yard field goal and a career-best 40-yard field goal.
USF's defense had arguably its best performance of the season, which did not go unnoticed by Anderson. "We came out ready to play today," said Anderson. "We shut out a really good offensive team for three quarters, which goes to show you what kind of focus they exhibited today," he said.
UIU, which was averaging 396.8 yards in total offense, finished with just 294 yards on 75 plays for a meager 3.77 yards per play. USF, which was led by junior linebacker Brody Grantham and sophomore linebacker Harvey (Michael) Enalls with seven tackles each, held the Peacocks to 124 yards rushing on 38 carries and 170 yards passing. In the first half, USF held UIU to just 93 yards in total offense.
"We won the game upfront on both sides of the ball," said Anderson. "I felt like we were always attacking their offense and defense upfront. The results bear it out," he said.
After holding the Peacocks on their opening possession, the Cougars took a 7-0 lead by piecing together a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive in 4:11. Myles opened the scored for USF with a two-yard touchdown run at the 10:06 mark of the first quarter.
Less than five minutes elapsed before Watson scored the first of two straight three-yard rushing touchdowns. Watson capped a four-play, 91-yard scoring drive with a three-yard touchdown run. However a key play in the drive was Watson's sixth run of 50 yards or more this season as he broke off an 81-yard run to UIU's 10-yard line. After a holding penalty on USF and a 16-yard pass completion by Walters to Smith, the Cougars called Watson's number as he scored to give USF a 14-0 lead with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
Later in the opening quarter, USF put together another long scoring drive as Watson capped a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive with a three-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds to play. USF could have made it 28-0 on their next possession but a pass by Walters was picked off by Daniel Ruffin, Jr., of UIU.
The turnover didn't seem to faze USF's offense, which pushed the advantage to 28-0 when Maxwell hauled in a 47-yard pitch-and-catch from Walters with 2:46 left to play in the second quarter. On the five-play drive, USF covered 69 yards in just 1:56.
USF added its final score of the half on a 30-yard field goal by Laramie as time expired. Laramie also provided USF's only second half points on a career-best 40-yard field goal with 8:33 to play.
Down 34-0, UIU averted a shutout when Skyler Lehman caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Lammers with 4:25 to play in the game.