The offense didn't always look pretty, but South Dakota School of Mines football coach Zach Tinker said it best: "Winning is a lot better than losing."
After a heartbreaking loss to Colorado Mesa 36-33 in week one, Mines responded with five turnovers forced by its defense in a home-opening win, 38-21 over Western State-Colorado Saturday in Dunham Field at O'Harra Stadium.
"If we were to speak honestly, we played a much better football game a week ago than we did today. But we were incredible taking the ball away today," Tinker said. "All the things we did defensively, and in the kicking game to get the ball back, was the story of the game. Offensively, as awful as we were at times, we didn’t give the ball away, so we had a chance to win."
The Mines secondary forced three interceptions, two from Marken Vilson and one from Dominick Johnson. The defense also recovered two fumbles in the game.
"For us it starts with our defensive line. If you look at the interceptions, they were caused by our defensive line being disruptive. That’s the way we’re going to turn people over, not fancy defensive calls. It’ll be because our defensive line is getting after it," Tinker said. "It’s been a strength of the team this season, and I think they showed that again today."
Western State got the scoring started with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Shumway to Christian Lance with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter. The extra point was no good, so the first quarter ended with the Mountaineers leading 6-0.
Mines would get on the board on the next drive, which ended when Jake Sullivan found Isiah Manley in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. The Hardrockers made their extra point and the score was 7-6 with under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Sullivan said when the offense was clicking, it was because of the play of his offensive line: Robert Schock, Jack Batho, Grant Smith, Harris Irwin and Austin Roth.
"Every RMAC team is going to be tough, and Western State has a good defense. They have a good front four, but we rode the big guys," Sullivan said. "Connor (Silveria) and KT (Kevin Thompson) run hard, so when we need a couple of yards or we need a drive, we give the ball to them. Today when we weren’t clicking with the wind with the receiver, we gave it to Connor and KT and they did the job for us."
Sullivan did damage on the ground as well as through the air, finishing with 62 yards on 21 carries while also going 23-of-38 for 237 yards and two touchdowns passing.
On the next kickoff, a lucky bounce put the ball at around the 20-yard line, but away from any Western State player, and Mines capitalized by jumping on the ball at the Mountaineer 22.
Two plays later Sullivan connected with Carson Hunt for an 18-yard touchdown, and in a matter of 33 seconds, Mines stretched its lead to 14-6.
Shumway connected with Zach Manchester later in the quarter to cut the lead to 14-12, but missed the 2-point conversion that would have tied the game. The Hardrockers ended the half with a 27-yard field goal from Enis Sefa.
Western State did not let up in the second half. In its first drive it marched down the field and took the lead on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Shumway to Elijah Gillespi. The kicking woes continued for the Mountaineers, as the extra point was missed again.
Mines took the lead back with 4:06 to go in the third to make it 24-18, which is what the score would be at the end of the third quarter. Connor Silveria took the ball in from 1 yard.
The fourth quarter started with Western State making its first kick of the day, a 29-yard field goal from Chandler Davis with 6:42 to go in the game.
Unlike last week against Colorado Mesa, the Hardrockers were able to finish when it had a lead.
First Silveria scored his second touchdown of the game by taking the ball in from 43-yards out with 3:03 to go.
"It was good that we finished," Sullivan said. "That’s what we were missing from last year and the Mesa game. We had big plays, not only from the offensive side of the ball, but also the defense. It was a team effort today and we finished the game."
Silveria finished with 71 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
After the touchdown, Vilson picked off Shumway and took the ball 57 yards to the end zone for the final score with 1:56 left. Western State had one more drive to end the game, which ended in another Vilson interception.
The Hardrockers, 1-1, will play Simon Fraser University next Saturday for homecoming, with kickoff coming at 5 p.m.