THIBODAUX, La. — South Dakota linebacker Phillip Powell forced a fumble at the goal line in the final seconds and the Coyotes recovered in the end zone to hold on for a 38-31 win against Nicholls Saturday in a first round FCS playoff game played at Guidry Stadium.
The Coyotes (8-4), competing in the FCS playoffs for the first time, advance to the round of 16 where they will face another Southland opponent, sixth-seeded Sam Houston State (10-1), at 1 p.m. (MST) next Saturday in Huntsville, Texas.
USD coach Bob Nielson said it was a great football game and Nicholls played well and executed.
"In some ways, I thought we were fortunate to win today," Nelson said. "But I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. That game kept swinging back and forth and back and forth momentum wise and our guys kept hanging in there. When you play on the road in the playoffs — and I’ve had the opportunity to do that a fair amount of times in my coaching career — this was a great crowd that helped them, you have to find ways to win football games and our guys found a way today."
South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, including a 10-yard strike to Brandt Van Roekel with 5:57 left that proved to be the winning score. Van Roekel also caught a 47-yard touchdown catch in the second half and finished with four catches and a game-high 82 yards.
Streveler broke Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson's Missouri Valley Football Conference record for total offense in a single season. In addition to his passing numbers, he ran for 34 yards and stands with 4,283 yards of offense this season, 33 yards more than Roberson compiled in 15 games back in 2014.
Streveler said that the playoffs are a different intensity.
"The ending, the way it was coming down, the stoppages, going back and forth, even the second half, it was so back and forth the whole game. It was fun to be a part of," Streveler said.
Van Roekel became the ninth Coyote in program history to reach 100 career catches. He also surpassed 1,500 yards. In addition to Van Roekel, Dakarai Allen scored on a 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and Trystn Ducker had the offensive play of the game with his 75-yard catch and run late in the third quarter that put USD ahead 31-21.
Nicholls passed for 232 yards, ran for 232 yards, and outgained the Coyotes 464-452. But Colonel quarterback Chase Fourcade threw three interceptions and Kyran Irvin's fumble on 1st-and-goal from the 1 with 30 seconds left were the difference. Fourcade completed 21 of 35 passes and ran 15 times for 77 yards. Irvin had a game-high 88 yards on 20 carries.
Irvin was ruled down by the officials on the field, but replays showed the ball had come out and the replay official reversed the call. One play prior, Fourcade was given credit for a first down on a fourth down carry to the 1.
"It was a ‘for the game' type of situation," Powell said. "Coach called a good blitz and I see the ball squirt out of the gap and I came in and make the play."
The sequence capped an incredible back and forth between the two teams that was jump started by Austin Dickerson's 43-yard interception return with 1:13 left before halftime that gave Nicholls its first points. Streveler responded to USD's lone turnover by setting up Ryan Weese for a 39-yard field goal as the first half horn expired to put the Coyotes ahead 17-7 at the half.
Mike Johnson and Isaac Armstead each intercepted Fourcade in the first half, and Alex Coker got the Coyotes' third pick on the first possession on the second half. But Nicholls wasn't done. The Colonels marched to three straight touchdowns on drives that spanned 75 yards each. Lorran Fonseca's 43-yard field goal on the next drive tied the game for the first time at 31-31 with 8:25 to go.
The game-winning drive started with a Streveler 28-yard run — the longest for the Coyotes all game. Both teams exchanged pass interference penalties, but Nicholls came on 3rd-and-18 when Allen beat his defender who held on to prevent a big gain. Streveler hit Randy Baker for 15 yards to set up 1st-and-goal at the 10, and Van Roekel caught a crossing route in the back of the end zone for the score.
Streveler passed for four touchdowns for third time this season and recorded his seventh 300-yard game. Allen finished with six catches for 55 yards. Ducker had two catches for 76.
SDSU to get rematch with Northern Iowa
South Dakota State will host Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Northern Iowa in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Saturday.
UNI advanced with a 46-7 victory over Monmouth in first-round action Saturday. The Panthers improved to 8-4 overall with their home victory.
The Jackrabbits, who are seeded fifth in the FCS playoffs, received a first-round bye. SDSU is 9-2 overall and has won five consecutive games since suffering a 38-18 defeat at the hands of UNI on Oct. 14.
Kickoff for the Dec. 2 playoff game is set for 1 p.m. (MST) at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.