SPEARFISH — The motto for the Black Hills State University football team is “The Edge.” After two weeks the Yellow Jackets have played a little too close to the wrong kind of edge.
They tight-roped things last week for a two-overtime win over Adams State in their season opener, trailing at one time by 28 points. On Saturday, the Jackets lost a tight battle to Fort Lewis College, 17-13, in a game they had the ball in the final seconds again but couldn’t get over the top.
In both games, the Jackets started slow. This time, they were never able to get in sync offensively, committing five turnovers and losing starting quarterback Ryan Hommel to injury.
“I told them we’re not going to be Cardiac Kids every week,” a disappointed BHSU coach John Reiners said. “If we continue to put ourselves in this, you’re probably going to flip the coin and be 50-50. If we do this, we will be 5-5 on the year, probably. Yeah, you have a chance to win, you’re going to be close, but we don’t need to do that.”
Hommel, who led the Jackets to the improbable win over Adams State the week prior, had an up-and-down start before getting injured in the second half. He was a spark early, scoring on an impressive 80-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 BHSU lead. But on the next series, he threw into traffic at midfield and the pass was intercepted by Dominic Cochrane, who returned it to the Jacket 6-yard line. Two plays later, PJ Hall scored on a 2-yard run for a 7-6 Fort Lewis advantage.
Black Hills State went into the locker room trailing 10-6 at halftime, a far cry from last week’s 31-3 disadvantage.
But there was no real offensive surge for Black Hills State this time. Hommel left the game in the third period with a possible hip injury when he was tackled hard on a run. His status for next week’s game at Dixie State is unknown.
Reserve quarterback Ben Sjobakken came in and immediately lost a fumble on his first possession.
But Sjobakken rebounded with 7:19 remaining in the third period when he found a wide-open Erick Hairston-Belcher for a 42-yard touchdown pass to put the Jackets back in the lead at 13-10 after Jacob Parks’ extra point kick.
Thanks to an outstanding Black Hills State defense, the Jackets were looking to add to their lead midway through the fourth quarter when Donnell Pleasant stepped in front of a Sjobakken pass and returned it 37 yards for what proved to be the winning score.
That BHSU defense gave the offense a couple more opportunities to win the game with impressive stops, but each time the Jackets stalled — on an interception by Fort Lewis defensive back Isiah Mayberry, and then with 16 seconds when Sjobakken was sacked and lost the football.
“Offensively we were not in sync all day,” Reiners said. “Even with Ryan in there, there were too many drops, too many third and longs. There were a couple of times we had guys wide open and we couldn’t connect. We have to do a better job of being an efficient offense, end of story. We weren’t today. When you have five turnovers, that will equalize anything.”
Sjobakken, a redshirt junior, was 9-of-21 passing for 126 yards, the two interceptions and one touchdown. He also ran the ball five times for 36 yards. Saturday was just his seventh appearance for the Jackets, with just two rushes for 17 yards previously and no passes attempted.
“The kid gets very limited reps in practice; Ryan gets the lion's share of the snaps,” Reiners said. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to play a lot of game reps. He got put into a very hostile situation. But he has to take better care of the ball and he knows that.”
The Jackets got the ball back with 38 seconds remaining on their own 35, needing a touchdown to win. Sjobakken completed an 11-yard pass to Tanner Gamble and a 12-yard pass to Christian Hernandez. After an incomplete pass down to the 10-yard line to Shandon Jones, Sjobakken's sack ended the Jackets' hopes for another come-from-behind win.
Fort Lewis interim coach Joe Morris said he was pleased with the road win, his first as the Skyhawks head coach.
“We just did what we tried to do. We tried to play defense and take away their great quarterback. Unfortunately, he went down and we wish the best for him more than anything,” Morris said. “Anytime you can steal possession it helps keep that powerful offense of Black Hills State off the field.”
It was a big week for the Skyhawks, who lost a 16-point lead in a 25-19 loss to Chadron State. It was a big RMAC road win for the young program.
“For us our big thing is that for each week, we want to get a little better than we were the week before,” said Morris, who is also celebrating the birth of a son, Joesph Morris, Jr., earlier this week. “Our guys are buying into trying to get better each week and they care about each other. I’m just happier than heck. Now get to go home and be with my new baby.”
Fort Lewis quarterback Bo Coleman was just 5-of-17 passing for 84 yards and the Skyhawks ran the ball 52 times for only 127 yards.
BHSU finished with 354 yards of total offense, as Fort Lewis held senior running back Phydell Paris to 32 yards on 15 carries.
Black Hills State is at Dixie State next Saturday.