An electric first quarter would be all South Dakota School of Mines would need to start the season 2-0 and 1-0 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, as the Hardrockers took down Dixie State 35-14 in their home opener Saturday night at Dunham Field at O'Harra Stadium.
"I thought we started with great juice, it was a really fast start on offense and defense," Mines coach Zach Tinker said. "That was the key, we got into a nice rhythm."
Tinker said there is no such thing as a perfect game, and after a 21-point first quarter, the Hardrockers were able to score only two more touchdowns.
Still, Tinker said he thinks his team can make the corrections they need to make.
"We had our ebbs and flows, made a couple of mistakes," he said. "But we never turned the ball over, we controlled the line of scrimmage. We ran the ball better than they did and in the end, that's a three-touchdown win at home. I'm feeling pretty good."
It didn’t take Mines long to strike. On the first Hardrocker drive Kevin Thompson scored from 2 yards out.
"It's the start that we want," Thompson said. "This is good motivation for us. We expected to beat this team and that's what we did. We made some mistakes, but this is what we wanted. I think the whole team came together and did what we needed to do."
On its second drive, the result was similar for Mines, as quarterback Jake Sullivan finished off the drive with a 8-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Manley, who started the drive with a 50-yard punt return that put the Hardrockers in good field position.
Sullivan finished the game 19-of-33 passing with 223 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Mines out-gained DSU 481-387, including a 258-103 advantage in rushing yards.
In an electric first quarter, DSU wouldn’t go away quietly. With 3:01 left in the quarter, the Trailblazers took the ball into the end zone from two yards out to make the score 14-7.
The Hardrockers weren’t done with scoring in the quarter. A long run from Dorian Cowart set up a 2-yard run from Sullivan to put Mines up 21-7, which would be the score at the end of the quarter.
Points became much harder to come by in the other three quarters for both teams. What started out as a track meet turned into a defensive dual, but Mines was able to score early in the quarter when Cowart scored from nine yards out.
DSU would score again before halftime, as quarterback Malik Watson found Orlando Wallace for a touchdown to make the score 28-14 with 3:51 left in the half, which is what the score would be at halftime.
On that drive Mines was assessed 30 penalty yards on one play, when Harrison Beemiller was called and ejected for targeting and the Mines sideline picked up another 15-yard penalty for arguing the call.
Tinker said those are the kind of mistakes the team needs to clean up.
"We kind of lost our composure a little bit, and I'm talking about coaches and players," he said. "We can't do that. You have to keep your poise. It's a football game, there's going to be calls, so I was disappointed we didn't respond better to that."
In the second half, the Mines defense flexed its muscles, especially in the secondary.
Dominick Jackson picked off Watson with just seven seconds remaining in the third quarter, while Jordan Copeland added another in the fourth quarter with 3:53 remaining.
"The takeaways were huge," Tinker said. "That's a pillar of our program, own the football. I thought defensively, people have no idea how many kids had to step up tonight that didn't know they were going to play a pivotal role. We had a couple guys go down with injury, we had the targeting penalty. We just have guys step up and find a way."
Thompson then put an exclamation point on the win with a 51-yard touchdown run with 1:33 remaining in the game.
Thompson finished with 151 rushing yards.
"We have to give most props to the offensive line," Thompson said.
Mines now has to prepare for the favorites in the RMAC, Colorado State-Pueblo, which comes to O'Harra Stadium next Saturday for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Pueblo is ranked No. 7 and won the Division II National Championship in 2014.
Tinker said Mines respects the Thunderwolves, but they aren't scared of them.
"It's always a big game if we're in it. It's our 'M' week, it's under the lights at Dunham Field; under the lights at Dunham Field is what we do," he said. "The challenge is enormous, but that's why these guys do what they do. To try to have the opportunity to play in a game like that.
"We're going to be challenged, we're going to need to play better than we played tonight if we want a chance to win, but I know this team will accept the challenge."