No quit in these Leathernecks:Western erases 17-point halftime deficit to defeat Nielson, Coyotes


Jake Thompson

No. 17 Jaelon Acklin and No. 30 Justin Fitzpatrick celebrate Western’s 35-34 win over South Dakota. Acklin’s fourth down catch led to the winning score for the Leathernecks.

Danny Frey

VERMILLION, SD — It was no surprise at all that the game between Western Illinois and South Dakota came down to the wire in the Dakota Dome Saturday. This time, the cardiac Coyotes ran out of life.

Western Illinois erased a 17-point second half deficit to defeat former head coach Bob Nielson and South Dakota, 35-34.

“It’s a trademark of this team,” said head coach Charlie Fisher. “We’re not going to give in to anybody. We fight as one and we’re going to fight it out to the end.”

Both teams exchanged three and outs to open the game, but once the defenses were felt out, it turned into a shootout.

A long pass down the sideline from Minnesota transfer Chris Streveler, who sat out last week, moved the Coyotes down the field quickly. Not long after, a toss to Tristyn Ducker drew first blood, as he flipped into the end zone for South Dakota with 9:42 left in the first quarter ahead 7-0.

Western wasted no time answering when Steve McShane cut it loose to the sideline on a 55-yard touchdown run that tied the game less than a minute later.

A stop of third down stopped a successful Coyote drive, but Miles Bergner cashed in with a 27-yard field goal.

Moving to an up-tempo style, a long pass over the middle to Isaiah Lesure cued up a 7-yard touchdown pass in the far corner to Lance Lenoir. The scoring catch tied Lenoir at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference career receptions record with Tyrone Walker, formerly of Illinois State.

It was Western’s first lead, and wouldn’t last too long. Streveler found a leaping Dakarai Allen in the back of the end zone to retake the lead for the Coyotes. The sensational snag made it 17-14 South Dakota with three minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Leatherneck offense slowed down considerably after that, failing to consistently move the chains. In the middle of the second quarter, Sean McGuire was intercepted by Danny Rambo, who returned the ball to the Leatherneck 10-yard line. Two plays later, Trevor Bauma plowed his way in from four yards out up the gut.

Already up by two scores with only 1:12 remaining in the first half, Streveler used his legs to find the corner on a 1-yard touchdown run, shifting all of the momentum to the Coyotes and their halftime lead of 31-14.

“I don’t know what got into us in the first half exactly,” Fisher said. “I think we played a little tight trying too hard to make too many plays.”

Due to deferring until the second half, the Leathernecks capitalized and scored on the opening drive of the second half, with McGuire scampering in from 6 yards away.

South Dakota seemed ready to respond on its next drive, but on fourth and one from the Leatherneck 28-yard line, Bouma was stuffed. The risk by Nielson didn’t pay off. Western wouldn’t score on the ensuing drive.

It wasn’t until 1:13 left in the third quarter when Temple transfer Jamie Gilmore followed his blockers for a 9-yard touchdown run to the outside. All of a sudden, it was a one-possession game at 31-28.

In the fourth quarter, the conservative Coyote play calling continued, but it did finally lead to points for the home team in the second half on a 21-yard chip shot by Bergner.

With six minutes to go and South Dakota searching for some cushion, a pass play of 69 yards to Brandt Van Roekel put the home team in prime position to seal the game. The Leatherneck defense did not roll over just yet. On third and goal from the 1-yard line, Josh Smith punched the ball out of Bouma’s grasp, while Brett Taylor jumped on it in the end zone for a touchback.

“Josh Smith made a huge play. Luckily for us it fell in our hands,” Taylor said.

Following Western’s first forced turnover of the game, the Leathernecks still had a lot of ground to cover before striking pay dirt.

One of the defining moments of the game was on fourth and 10 right smack dab in the middle of the field. Jaelon Acklin created separation and hauled in the critical pass to the South Dakota 22-yard line.

A couple quick plays pushed Western to the 2-yard line, where Joey Borsellino was left wide open in the end zone to tie the game at 34 with only 32 seconds remaining.

“I was doing anything I could to get Sean’s (McGuire) attention,” Borsellino said.

Kicker Nathan Knuffman drilled his most important extra point of the season to give the Leathernecks their first lead since the opening quarter.

The Coyotes would not go down easy, with Streveler telegraphing it down the field all the way to the Western 42-yard line. An offside penalty against the Leathernecks moved the ball 5 yards closer.

Back-to-back incomplete passes led to a 54-yard field goal attempt by Bergner for the win. The snap and hold was good, but the kick sailed wide left securing the Leatherneck comeback win and first loss of the season for the Coyotes at
the DakotaDome.

It was definitely one of the more emotional wins of the season.

“In pregame warm-ups we basically saw our whole coaching staff from last year,” Borsellino said. “It was a culture shock for sure, but we got the win.”

Lenoir finished with six catches, 111 yards and a touchdown securing him as the MVFC all-time receptions leader. Still, he gives a lot of the credit to his quarterback McGuire, who engineered another game-winning drive.

“Sean is a baller,” Lenoir said. “I love that dude. He knows me well, and I know him, so we trust each other. He puts the ball in the air, I’m going to go get it.”

After rushing for just 85 yards in the previous two games, Steve McShane picked up 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground on Saturday.

Taylor and Quentin Moon recorded 15 and 12 total tackles, respectively. Moon snuck into the backfield for three tackles for loss.

“We still have a lot of work in front of us,” Fisher said. “Getting that sixth win, we move a step closer to the goals we want to accomplish. It says a lot about our team to win on the road.”

It’s Western’s fourth road win of the season. They will return home for two contests in a row, beginning with rival Illinois State.

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