Head coach Bob Nielson walks off the Hanson Field turf on Saturday following Western’s 40-21 win over South Dakota. The Leathernecks moved to 2-0 in MVFC play.

Cody Rivera

There was plenty on the line at Hanson Field on Saturday.

Defending your home turf is always an important thing, and the Leathernecks only had three home games remaining entering the day.

But, with an upcoming slate of games against multiple ranked opponents, nothing was more important than getting off to a 2-0 start in Missouri Valley Football Conference play, and the Western Illinois football team did just that with a commanding 40-21 win over
South Dakota.

“It was definitely a huge win for us to build up a lot of confidence,” said quarterback Trenton Norvell. “And we need to have another good week of practice.”

All around, it was Norvell’s day.

The junior from Daytona Beach, Florida threw for 288 yards (to surpass 6,000 in his career) with three touchdown passes, completing 16 of 25 pass attempts. He even managed to utilize his own feet by picking up a rushing touchdown as well, with a total of three carries on the day.

Norvell did enough to impress his head coach, Bob Nielson.

“I thought he did a great job of distributing the football and making good decisions,” Nielson said. “We need him to play that way. He’s an experienced quarterback and he’s experienced in this league, and he’s important to our offense.

“We need him to keep getting better. He’s seeing things really well right now and we need to keep him going in that direction.”

With the team on his back, Norvell put the Leathernecks (3-2, 2-0 in MVFC play) in front early, rushing four yards for a touchdown less than four minutes into the game.

South Dakota (2-3, 0-2) answered with a three-yard touchdown run by Trevor Bouma, but with 2:50 left in the first quarter, Norvell struck back.

He found one of his favorite receiving targets, junior Lance Lenoir, for a 21-yard touchdown pass to give the Leathernecks a 13-7 lead, following a missed extra point.

“(Our game plan) was just to go out and execute plays like we’ve been doing all week and like we did last week too,” Norvell said. “Just go out and execute plays.”

The execution was working, and from that point on, the Leathernecks were in firm control of the Coyotes. Two field goals by kicker Nathan Knuffman, the hero from last week’s 37-36 win over Southern Illinois, stretched Western’s lead to 19-7 at halftime.

Following the break, the Coyotes trimmed the lead with a 10-yard touchdown run by Shamar Jackson. After that, the Leathernecks took over.

Another of Norvell’s favorite targets, Joey Borsellino, hauled in the longest pass of his career, a 61-yarder, and ran it in for a touchdown.

With dangerous threats like himself and Lenoir on the field, Borsellino said sometimes it surprises him when opposing defenses try to match up with them one-on-one on the outside.

“If they want to do that, more power to us on the outside,” said Borsellino, who finished with 112 receiving yards on four catches. “We love that. If you want to come press us up and still play us one-on-one, we’ll take advantage of that.”

A few minutes later, Nikko Watson highlighted his 139-yard rushing day with a one-yard touchdown run.

Finally, with 2:11 remaining in the game, the Leathernecks capped off their day with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Norvell to Jaelon Acklin — the first touchdown reception of his career — to extend their lead to 40-14.

“That throw to Acklin at the end, that was pinpoint,” Nielson said. “I thought Trenton threw the ball exceptionally well, and I thought we made three or four really outstanding catches today.”

After having to come from behind multiple times the previous week against Southern Illinois, Borsellino said it’s much easier to manage the game when the team is in control from the opening kickoff.

“If we’re behind, we’re never going to stop, but it’s always nice to start fast,” Borsellino said. “That’s something that our coaches always emphasize on. We knew if we got up on them, if we kept going we knew that we would be able to hopefully make them fold up.

“It’s a big emphasis in practice every week. We always want to start fast in a game.”

Twitter: @CodyRivera33