When the South Dakota Mines football team was good — in all three phases of the game — it was very good. The Hardrockers, however, were not good in stopping explosive plays by the Missouri S&T offense in the second half. It almost cost them the game.
But Mines held on in the final seconds for a 34-31 win over the Miners in the season opener on Dunham Field at O’Harra Stadium.
The Hardrockers breezed in the first three quafrters, racing out to a 34-10 lead. Mines had two defensive touchdowns — a 71-yard fumble recovering by Adrian Eastman and a 34-yard interception return by Kendahl Johnson.
Mines also blocked two kicks — a field goal attempt and one put attempt, with the punt block leading to a touchdown.
After the 34-10 lead, the Mines defense gave up three touchdowns in a little over seven minutes in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard run, a 40-yard pass and a 25-yard pass.
The Miners had one final chance but Casey Knutsen’s punt put them back on their own 10-yard line with 28 seconds remaining and the Mines defense held strong for the win.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Mines head coach Charlie Flohr said. “I was really proud of our team and how we competed in the first half. It was an emotional game. These kids hadn’t played football in a long time. We came out with a lot of energy.
“The second half we had it but we didn’t make plays here and there. On each side of the ball we had some blunders, but I’m proud of the kids and how they responded. That is a good football team that we beat right there. I’m proud of how they never had a negative thought that we were going to lose that football game.”
Mines quarterback Jayden Johannsen said they were able to do what they had to do to get the win.
“A win is a win at the end of the day, you can’t complain about that,” Johannsen said. “But we know we have a lot of stuff to work on, and there is always next week. We have to keep our head down and don’t be satisfied with this.”
Mines lived off of big plays when things were clicking, and it started fairly early on the second possession after Johnson recovered a Missouri S&T fumble. The Hardrockers got on the board first 16 plays later when Jeremiah Bridges caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Johannsen to make it 7-0.
The opportunistic Hardrocker defense continued when Eastman scooped up an S&T fumble and rambled home from 71 yards out to give Mines a 14-0 lead, still with 3:27 remaining in the first quarter.
Missouri S&T was on the move offensively, but had a 38-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Jarod Svensson.
The ‘Rockers couldn’t take advantage of this block but would big time later in the first half.
Missouri S&T got a 45-yard field goal by Zach Glaess to cut the lead to 14-3 early in the second quarter. Mines missed out on a golden opportunity when they turned the ball over on downs on the S&T 30 — the first of two failed 4th down attempts in the quarter.
But defense and special teams rallied the team again after Mines failed on 4th and 2 on the S&T 19-yard line. On a high snap to the punter, the Hardrockers’ Hunter Newsom blocked the punt and teammate Austin Alosi recovered on the 7-yard line.
One play later senior Ahmad Lewis stiff-armed his way to a 7-yard TD run. The Hardrockers led 21-3 and took that advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Hardrockers’ momentum was briefly short-lived, as it took Missouri S&T just one play to begin the third quarter to get in the end zone. Quarterback Brennan Simms hit a wide-open Breon Michel up the middle for a 65-yard TD pass and it was 21-10 just 15 seconds into the second half.
Mines, however, responded with a 46-yard field goal by Connor Taylor and the 34-yard pick-6 by Johnson for a 31-10 lead with 5:05 remaining in the third period.
Johnson said his intercepting came from film study.
“I was able to read the play pretty well and it just came to me. As it turned out, it helped a lot,” Johnson said with a big grin. “I’m glad I was able to contribute, and I’m glad Adrian did his thing too.”
After another stop by the Mines defense, the Hardrockers made it 34-10 on a 31-yard field goal by Taylor, capping a 12-play drive.
Missouri S&T, however, cut the lead to 34-17 when Aaron Moya raced up the middle untouched from 47 yards with 10:44 to play.
After a three-and-out and 11-yard punt by the Hardrockers, S&T struck again in just one play on a 40-yard TD pass from Simms to Michel. Still with 9:30 to play, it was a 10-point game, 34-24.
After another punt by the Hardrockers, the Miners kept moving ahead and cut the lead to three with 3:33 to play on a 25-yard TD pass from Simms to Michel. S&T converted a 4th-2 and a 3rd-1 on the 70-yard drive.
Mines needed to take some time off the clock and it did, but still had to give the ball back to the Miners. Knutsen came through with the punt down to the 10-yard line. Gavin Chaddock sacked Simms on the 2-yard line before the Miners completed a couple of passes — the final completion when they tried to do the hook-and-ladder, but Knutsen recovered the fumble to close out the win.
“That is all that matters. I’m glad we were able to walk in together and just get it done,” Johnson said. “It’s like Coach said, there were some lulls in there where we were messing up some things, but I glad we were able to stick it out together.”
Johannsen finished 14-of-30 passing for 185 yards and the one touchdown. He also led the team in rushing with 87 yards on eight carries.
“We didn’t capitalize on a few things to keep drives going. When we are up, we have to stay up, we can’t get down," he said. “I didn’t turn the ball over and that is always positive. But I missed some throws I should have made. I have a lot to work on.”
Lewis had 69 yards on 28 carries. Mines had 191 yards rushing on 44 carries.
“They really put a lot of guys in the box and tried to make us throw the football,” Flohr said. “We have to make some adjustments in what we are doing offensively. Knowing the type of backs that we have in our conference, we have to complete some balls down the field and open up the defense a little bit.”
Isaiah Eastman had five catches for 101 yards and Collin Zur added four receptions for 40 yards. Bridges had three catches for 27 yards and the one TD.
Simms was 22-of-41 passing for 317 yards and three TDs, with Moya running for 128 yards on 15 carries. As a team S&T had 221 yards on 37 carries.
“We have to create explosives ourselves but we can’t give up explosive plays,” Flohr said. “Ultimately, that is what got them back in the football game. They did a good job of stopping the run when we needed to, but explosive plays are what hurt us and that is what we have to fix.”
Cole Peterson led Mines with eight tackles (seven solo), followed by Kyante Christian with seven tackles and Justin Broekemeier with six tackles.
The Hardrockers will stay at home and host Mayville State Saturday, Sept. 11 at 5 p.m.
Flohr said he is happy with where they are at right now.
“That is the big thing that we have to focus on,” he said. “After week one, what mistakes we are going to correct and see what kind of team we can come out with in week two,’ Flohr said.