The University of Sioux Falls began Division II play with a bang.
The upstart Cougars, playing in their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and D-II game, upset No. 16 St. Cloud State with a 32-19 win Thursday night in front of 4,471 fans at Husky Stadium.
“This is extremely disappointing,” SCSU senior center Andrew Beckmann said. “You have to admit it, we got whooped in every phase of the game. We didn’t play the way we needed to win. We got outplayed and our inexperience came up.
“We definitely need to work on some things. It’s only going forward from here. We have to get better and get going.”
The loss shouldn’t be that surprising since the Cougars have won four NAIA national titles since 1996. Sioux Falls started to make the move up to Division II before the 2010 season.
The Cougars won national titles in 1996, 2006, 2008 and 2009. They also played in the NAIA national championship game in 2010.
“The conventual wisdom was that this was the best team in the conference,” USF head coach Jed Stugart said. “And on paper, and with what they’ve accomplished, they are. For us, do you choose to believe that or do you choose to believe we could win? We believed we would come away with a win tonight.”
But the loss was especially disheartening for the Huskies, who were picked by the NSIC coaches to finish second in a preseason poll. St. Cloud State is 1-4 in season-openers with Scott Underwood as head coach.
“They whooped us in all three phases of the game,” Underwood said. “They used their experience and talent to beat us. They exploited the inexperience we have and got after us. We have to learn from it and try to get better.”
Things started out bad from the beginning for the Huskies. Playing without injured punter/kicker Tyler Aldridge, the special teams units didn’t look comfortable. A bad snap over the head of backup punter Jack Moro with 12:44 left in the first quarter put Sioux Falls up 2-0. Moro ran out of bounds for the safety.
“It went over my head and I was told to run out of bounds if that happened,” said Moro, who also had an interception on defense. “We knew coming from the NAIA that they had competed against some really good teams. They came out and executed. They came out and did what we didn’t. All the credit goes to them.”
The Cougars took advantage of getting the ball back right away with a 5-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard pass from quarterback Taylor Perkins to Carrington Hanna to make it 8-0. Sioux Falls never trailed in the game.
St. Cloud State’s wide receivers struggled to get open against the Cougars’ secondary. However, the main problem for the Huskies was trying to run the ball against USF.
The Cougars limited the Huskies to 97 yards rushing and held starting running back Michael Walker to 11 carries for 10 yards.
“We struggled to run the ball,” Underwood said. “We have a new crew in there on the offensive line and we have to continue to develop there. We had some concerns about that. Sioux Falls made it hard on us. They got us in a lot of long-yardage situations.”
Sioux Falls’ offense piled up 418 yards of total offense to the Huskies’ 320. Klaphake finished 15 of 37 passing for 223 yards and an interception.
But Perkins was better. He went 25 of 42 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Hanna had eight catches for 113 yards with two touchdowns.
“We knew they had a bunch of weapons and their quarterback was a good player,” Moro said. “We weren’t able to stop it.”
The Huskies got within 8-6 and 15-13, but the Cougars’ offense really never missed a beat. Klaphake hit wide receiver Austin Harrington for a 33-yard touchdown with 6:58 left in the first quarter and then he ran for a score from six yards out with 9:08 left in the second.
Sioux Falls started to pull away with a pair of touchdown passes from Perkins in the second quarter. Perkins hit Jeremiah Oates for a 2-yard score with 5:35 left before the half and then Hanna for a 22-yard touchdown with 1:46 left in the second.
The one bright spot for SCSU was the freshman Harrington, who finished with six catches for 134 yards.
“It was my first play of my first college game,” Harrington said. “It was something else. But it didn’t mean much since we lost. We just didn’t do what we needed to do. We didn’t mesh well tonight.”
* There was a moment of silence before the game for long-time St. Cloud State statistician Marty Sundvall, who died in May. Sundvall got his undergraduate and graduate degrees from St. Cloud State, taught journalism at the university and was on the stats teams for St. Cloud State football and hockey games for more than 13 years.
* Senior cornerback Marvin Matthews, Aldridge, junior nose guard Jared Cross and sophomore defensive end Bo Putrah didn’t play due to injuries. Matthews is a preseason All-American pick.
SIOUX FALLS 32,
ST. CLOUD STATE 19
Sioux Falls 15 14 3 0 — 32
St. Cloud State 6 7 0 6 — 19
SF — Safety, 12:44
Key play: A bad snap by the SCSU long snapper resulted in punter Jack Moro having to run out of bounds for a safety. Sioux Falls 2, St. Cloud State 0.
SF — Carrington Hanna 2 pass from Taylor Perkins (kick blocked), 10:41
Drive: 5 plays, 55 yards, 2:03.
Key plays: After the safety, the Cougars responded with a quick scoring drive. A 17-yard catch by Jeremiah Oates, an 8-yard run by Kristian Porter and a 10-yard catch by Hanna spurred the drive on. Sioux Falls 8, St. Cloud State 0.
SC — Austin Harrington 33 pass from Phillip Klaphake (run failed), 6:58
Drive: 1 play, 33 yards, 2:03.
Key plays: A Moro 30-yard interception return set up this score. Klaphake found Harrington on the first play of the drive down the right side. Sioux Falls 8, St. Cloud State 6.
SF — Porter 4 run (Braden Wieking kick), :41
Drive: 8 plays, 77 yards, 3:25.
Key plays: Oates had a big drive, catching passes of 16 and 24 yards. The 24-yarder was a leaping grab in the air that went down the St. Cloud State 4. Porter went up the middle for the touchdown. Sioux Falls 15, St. Cloud State 6.
SC — Klaphake 6 run (Taylor Berger kick), 5:41
Drive: 5 plays, 62 yards, 2:10.
Key plays: The drive started with a 39-yard catch by Harrington. After an 18-yard run by Klaphake, he ran up the middle for the score. Sioux Falls 15, St. Cloud State 13.
SF — Oates 2 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 5:35
Drive: 7 plays, 61 yards, 3:29.
Key plays: Sioux Falls went on a quick drive to go back up by 11. Perkins had a 10-yard run, Hanna had a 24-yard catch down the left sideline and Tait Johannsen had a 7-yard catch. Sioux Falls 22, St. Cloud State 13.
SF — Hanna 22 pass from Perkins (Wieking kick), 1:46
Drive: 3 plays, 57 yards, :20.
Key plays: A 15-yard helmet-to-helmet penalty by SCSU safety Eric Poggenburg put the Cougars down to the 22-yard line. A play later, Hanna caught the pass down the middle for the score. Austin VanHove had a 20-yard catch before the penalty. Sioux Falls 29, St. Cloud State 13.
SF — Wieking 48 field goal, 6:40
Drive: 11 plays, 41 yards, 4:15.
Key plays: After the USF drive stalled, Wieking came on and booted a career-long field goal to extend the lead to 19. Sioux Falls 32, St. Cloud State 13.
SC — Ledell White 3 run (pass failed), :26
Drive: 9 plays, 73 yards, 1:09.
Key plays: The Huskies added a late touchdown with White going up the middle for the score. Sioux Falls 32, St. Cloud State 19.
Rushing: SF — Porter 15-77, Taylor 13-61, Perkins 8-28; SC — Klaphake 21-81, Mike Walker 11-10, White 1-3 Treat 1-3.
Passing: SF — Perkins 25-42-1-254; SC — Klaphake 15-37-1-223.
Receiving: SF — Hanna 8-113, Oates 6-76, VanHove 5-34, Porter 2-4, Celestine 1-14, Johannsen 1-7, Tyler Ollerich 1-4, Michael Lindsey 1-2; SC — Harrington 6-134, Chad Peterson 2-26, Damon Treat 3-20, Walker 1-8, Eli Shoemaker 1-7.
Sioux Falls: 1-0 NSIC, 1-0 overall. Next: host to MSU-Moorhead, 1 p.m. in Moorhead.
St. Cloud State: 0-1 NSIC, 0-1 overall. Next: at Upper Iowa, 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 in Fayette, Iowa.