By: Brandon Braich, Peak Associate
SFU football, looking for its first victory of the season after losing its first two games, fell 26–7 to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in its home opener in front of a crowd of 866 at Swangard Stadium.
After the teams exchanged early punts, the Hardrockers blocked the second Clan punt of the game, giving themselves great field position at the 50-yard line. Quarterback Toby Smith then connected on a short pass to running back Ahmad Lewis, who rumbled 37 yards down the field, setting up a 1st and Goal for South Dakota. Overall, Lewis had a strong night rushing the ball, finishing with 94 yards on 23 carries.
The Hardrockers capitalized on the opportunity two plays later when Smith connected with Ira Murphy on a shovel pass, allowing the big tight end to cruise into the end zone unassailed.
However, the Clan quickly regrouped, and appeared to answer back the very next drive, when freshman quarterback Brandon Niksich hit wide receiver Gavin Cobb for what looked to be an 80-yard touchdown. Niksich hit Cobb, who was playing his first game of the year, with a perfect pass on a wheel route down the field. However, as Cobb strolled into the end zone, he turned around and back-pedalled in, which drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and brought the ball back to the 17-yard line.
The penalty proved extremely costly as the Clan not only failed to punch it in on their subsequent opportunities, but kicker David Eisenkraft also missed the ensuing field goal wide right.
While the Clan’s offence struggled throughout the first half, their defence kept them in the game by holding the score to 10–0 with two minutes left in the half. Though the Hardrockers seemed poised to extend their lead as they marched the ball down to the SFU 5-yard line, the Clan defence came up with a huge goal line stand and held South Dakota to only a field goal.
The momentum carried over as Niksich, with only 46 seconds left in the half, was able to lead a drive down the field which culminated in a successful Hail Mary attempt that was brought down by wide receiver Rysen John. The touchdown brought the Clan to within seven points going into the locker room.
To begin the second half, the Hardrockers looked to regain control as they methodically moved the ball down the field. During a critical fourth and one deep in Clan territory, SFU appeared to jump offside. However, it was ruled that they did not break the plane and no flag was thrown — much to the disagreement of the South Dakota coaching staff.
Perhaps thinking he had a free play, Toby Smith aired a deep ball that fell incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs and giving SFU all the momentum.
This momentum shift turned out to be short lived though as Niksich threw an interception on the very next play to Will Caroll, who strolled into the end zone from 17 yards out to make it 20–7.
The game seemed to be on the verge of slipping away from SFU for good after a wild snap on a punt led to South Dakota taking over at the Clan 25 yard line early in the fourth quarter. Yet, it was again the SFU defence that stepped up, with Matt Duda intercepting a Toby Smith pass on the very next play.
Following the turn over, running back Solomon Hines found a hole up the middle, breaking off a 38 yard run and bringing the crowd to its feet. Hines would finish with 89 yards on 20 carries. The Hardrocker defence tightened up though and didn’t not allow the Clan to advance any further. That would be the final opportunity for SFU to come back, as South Dakota would go on to extend their lead and take the game 26–7.
Making the second start of his career, Niksich finished with 259 yards passing including a touchdown and two interceptions. Cobb had an explosive first game, catching seven receptions for 107 yards. Defensively, Brendan Lowry lead the way with 11 tackles.
With the win, the Hardrockers improved their record to 1–2, while SFU fell to 0–3. The Clan’s next opportunity for their first win of 2019 will come against Azusa Pacific University as the team plays its first GNAC game of the season.