SIOUX FALLS – With Caden Walters and Nate Johnson providing the offense and the nation's second ranked defense pitching a shutout, the University of Sioux Falls Football Team (3-2, 3-2 NSIC) rolled to a 39-0 victory over U-Mary (0-5, 0-5 NSIC) in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football at Bob Young Field before 1,849 in attendance on the Homecoming and Hall of Fame Game.
The Cougars, which ranked second in NCAA DII by allowing just 210 yards per game, registered its first shutdown in 23 games and dates to a 34-0 win over Minnesota-Crookston on Sept. 23, 2017 at Bob Young Field. USF's defense, coordinated by Nick Benedetto, held U-Mary to just 260 yards on 73 plays or 3.5 yards per play. Ryan Nieman had a 37-yard interception return for a TD and USF forced two fumbles, recorded five sacks with eight tackles for loss in a dominating defensive effort.
"We are certainly pleased with our effort today," said USF Head Coach Jon Anderson, who improved to 19-9 in his third year at USF. "I felt we played hard and made big plays at every turn. It was a nice win," added Anderson, whose team not only registered its 71st home win in 81 games but improved to 14-1 against North Division opponents at Bob Young Field. Overall, USF now has won 25-of-29 games against the North since joining the NSIC in 2012.
USF's offense, directed by coordinator Jim Chapin, rolled up 419 yards on 61 plays with 184 rushing yards and 235 yards through the air. The senior combination of quarterback Walters and Johnson produced big dividends on Saturday.
Walters had 295 yards in total offense while completing 13-of-24 passes for 235 yards and three TDs. Johnson, who set a career-high with 10 catches a week ago, had eight more receptions for a career-high 186 yards and three TDs. Johnson tied his career-high in TD receptions with three which he set on Sept. 15, 2018 against Southwest Minnesota State. As for his 186 yards, Johnson registered the most receiving yards by a USF player at the NCAA DII level and has the highest total since Grant Brecher had 10 catches for 187 yards and a TD vs. Dana on Oct. 18, 2003. Overall, Johnson's yardage total ranks sixth all-time at USF.
As for USF's rushing offense, redshirt sophomore Ja'Tai Jenkins led the way with 13 carries for 80 yards and a TD. Walters added 60 yards on eight carries.
Nieman, who has three interceptions (six in his career) for 129 yards, scored USF's first defensive TD since Parker Gregston had a 75-yard pick six against Augustana in a 51-13 road win on Sept. 22, 2018. USF has 45 defensive/special team touchdowns since 2010 and Nieman's nifty return gave the defense its 30th TD in that span. Of that total, 20 of the TDs have happened at Bob Young Field and it was the 25th defensive TD in USF's DII era.
"Clearly, we had good focus and effort throughout the day," said Anderson. "Now we need to build on the momentum of this win as we hit the road next week," he said.
The Cougars, which will play at Minnesota-Crookston at noon on Oct. 12, opened the scoring with TDs on each of its first two possessions. USF added 19 points in the second quarter before putting up the final score in the fourth quarter for the 39-0 verdict.
Johnson opened the scoring for USF as he hauled in a 48-yard scoring pass from Walters just 1:17 into the game as the Cougars took a 7-0 lead. USF, which lost the coin toss for the fifth straight game, took the ball 75 yards in three plays to grab an early advantage.
On USF's next possession, Walters deftly guided USF down the field as they moved the ball 78 yards in 13 plays and took 6:05 off the clock in taking a 14-0 lead. Walters hit Johnson on a four-yard TD pass at the 6:59 mark for the double-digit advantage. On the drive, Walters had a 20-yard run and redshirt sophomore Thuro Reisdorfer, who had six carries for 30 yards, rumbled for 11 yards.
Early in the second quarter, USF built a 21-0 the lead as Walters scored on a 26-yard TD run on a third and 15 play deep in U-Mary territory. Walters again directed USF on a long-scoring drive as they covered 80 yards in seven plays and used 2:02 off the clock.
After the offense did their work, the defense responded in kind. With 12:21 on the clock, Nieman picked off Avery Gould and found a seam down the right sideline as he scored on a 37-yard return as USF took a 27-0 lead. Later in the second quarter (4:34), Johnson and Walters again made a connection. Johnson had a career-best 62-yard reception for a 33-0 lead, which USF took to halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, USF increased the lead to 39-0 after Jenkins scored on a one-yard run with 12:53 to play in the game. Jenkins's run capped a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive that took 4:34 off the clock.