VERMILLION, S.D. -- The Southern Utah football team couldn't overcome a nightmare second quarter, losing to South Dakota 45-21 Saturday in Vermillion, S.D.
The T-Birds (4-5, 2-2 Great West) turned the ball over three times in the second quarter and were outscored 21-0 in the frame by the Coyotes (4-5, 1-2 Great West).
The T-Birds entered the game needing a win to clinch a share of the Great West Conference Championship, but the loss, coupled with UC Davis beating Cal Poly on Saturday, knocks the T-Birds out of contention as the winner of next week's game between UC Davis and North Dakota will win the title outright.
After the T-Birds tied the game at 7-7 on the final play of the first quarter, the Coyotes took the opening drive of the second quarter 67 yards for a score, capped off by a 2-yard run by senior running back Isaac Newton.
T-Bird sophomore running back Austin Minefee fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, which led to a 1-yard touchdown run from Coyote senior quarterback Noah Shephard six plays later, putting USD ahead 21-7.
The T-Birds got into Coyote territory on their following drive before SUU senior quarterback Cade Cooper threw an interception to Coyote sophomore defensive back Jim Thompson. South Dakota capitalized again with a 45-yard run from Coyote junior running back Chris Ganious to go up 28-7.
Cooper threw another interception to Thompson on the T-Birds' next drive before SUU junior cornerback Colin Pretlow intercepted a pass in the end zone from Shepard to end the half.
The 65-yard touchdown pass from Cooper to Poots on the final play of the first quarter accounted for most of the T-Birds' first-half offense. All of their other first half plays combined accounted for 63 yards. The Coyotes racked up 387 first-half yards on the T-Birds.
Late in the third quarter, the T-Birds began to mount a fight, scoring on a 35-yard pass from Cooper to Poots to pull within two touchdowns at 28-14. After forcing a punt, the T-Birds had a chance to pull within one score, but Cooper threw his fourth interception of the game, having also thrown one earlier in the third quarter, which led to a South Dakota field goal and a 31-14 game entering the fourth quarter.
The T-Birds responded with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cooper to sophomore running back Daryl Brown on their next drive to pull within 10 points at 31-21. Cooper completed all six of his passes on the drive. After that, however, South Dakota's running game woke back up as they put the game away with an eight-play, 70-yard drive, all on the ground, to go up 38-21. They added another touchdown late in the game to make the final score 45-21.
The Coyotes were once again, for most of the game, able to have their way against the T-Bird defense on the ground, accumulating 334 rushing yards and five touchdowns after racking up 445 rushing yards and six touchdowns against SUU in 2008.
Ganious led the Coyotes' ground attack with 170 yards and two scores, while Newton added 113 yards and a score. Both Ganious and Newton also ran for 100-plus yards against the T-Birds in 2008.
After only attempting five passes in the 2008 meeting, the Coyotes went to the air more this time around as Shepard completed 19 of 29 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 44 yards and another touchdown.
Cooper completed 20 of 35 passes for the T-Birds for 278 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Poots was on the receiving end six times for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
The T-Birds ran the ball somewhat effectively, with 12 carries for 47 yards in the contest, but were playing from behind and passing for most of the game.
South Dakota dominated time of possession with about 42 minutes compared to about 18 for the T-Birds.
SUU will return home in hopes of ending the season on a high note when they play host to Eastern Washington Saturday at 1 p.m. in their final home game of the season. They travel to San Diego the following weekend to end the season against the University of San Diego.