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Great West Football begins 2-0

Sept. 3, 2009

The Great West Conference got off to good start to the 2009 football season Thursday night as South Dakota and Southern Utah each claimed victory in their opener.

The Coyotes of South Dakota had little trouble with William Penn, posting a 52-0 victory and recording the 500th win in USD football history. Receiver Dan Skelly caught two touchdown passes that tied him for first on the Coyotes' all-time touchdown reception list with 18.

Farther west, a record-setting crowd saw the Southern Utah Thunderbirds defeat Dixie State by a score of 36-7, due in part to a school record five field goals by wide receiver turned kicker Ryan Griffith.

South Dakota 52, William Penn 0

VERMILLION, S.D. -- The University of South Dakota football team recorded the 500th win in its program's history with a 52-0 rout of William Penn in the Coyotes' season opener Thursday night in Vermillion, S.D.

USD's 500th win came as a result of a dominant defensive performance, plus big plays from the offense and special teams.

Also in the game, USD receiver Dan Skelly (Sr., Champlin Park, Minn.) tied the all-time touchdown receptions record at 18 with two scoring catches.

USD dominated the first half statistically, outgaining the Statesmen 270-40. USD had 12 first downs compared to three for William Penn. The Coyote defense never allowed the Statesmen to run a play in USD territory in the opening half.

The Coyotes got on the board first when Dustin Nowotny (So., Rapid City, S.D.) connected on a 27-yard field goal with 8:47 left in the first quarter, capping off an 8-play, 48-yard Coyote drive.

Later in the quarter, USD delivered a big play as Noah Shepard (Sr., Thornton, Colo.) connected with Skelly on a 53-yard touchdown to push the USD lead to 10-0 with two minutes showing on the clock in the opening frame.

In the second quarter, USD didn't waste time getting on the board, thanks to its special teams. Cory Kuehl (So., Rock Rapids, Iowa) blocked a punt, and after the ball rolled several yards into the end zone where he recovered the ball for a touchdown, pushing the Coyote lead to 17-0 with 14:50 to go in the half.

The Coyotes weren't through. Shepard connected with Nowotny for a 35-yard touchdown with 5:51 left in the half to help the Coyotes build a commanding 24-0 lead.

Late in the half, USD went four plays on 45 yards, capped off by an 11-yard pass from Shepard to London Landry (Jr., Lancaster, Calif.), which gave USD a 31-0 lead that it took into halftime.

Shepard was 11-of-17 for 161 yards and Chris Ganious (So., Houston, Texas) had 10 carries for 63 yards, while Skelly had a big half with five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Nowotny and Landry also caught first-half touchdowns for USD.

The Coyotes struck again through the air early in the second half, as Shepard connected on a perfectly-thrown ball to Skelly for a 53-yard touchdown, giving USD a 38-0 lead with 11:57 left in the third.

USD added two more touchdowns in the fourth when Shepard scored from 1-yard out and backup quarterback Dante Warren (So., Arlington Heights, Ill.) scored on an 18-yard scramble to make it 52-0.

That proved to be plenty for USD's defense, which finished the shutout in its opening game of 2009. Shea Williams (So., Alexandria, S.D.) led the Coyotes with nine tackles, while Shane Potter (So., Becker, Minn.) and Wayne Curry (Sr., Tampa, Fla.) added eight each. Ko Quaye (Sr., Brooklyn Park, Minn.) had seven tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Evan Capper (So, Aplington, Iowa) also had three tackles for loss.

Shepard finished 15-of-23 for 249 yards and four touchdowns. Isaac Newton (Sr., New Orleans, La.) had 10 rushes for 89yards, while Ganious finished with 12 catches for 70 yards. Skelly finished with six catches for 138 yards for USD.

The Coyotes resume action on Saturday, Sept. 12 at No. 4-ranked Northern Iowa.

Notes: USD improved to 5-1 in season openers under Coach Ed Meierkort...the Coyotes are 27-2 at the DakotaDome under Meierkort...Skelly is tied with Derek Gearman with 18 touchdown receptions and moved into eighth all-time with 80 is the second straight year USD won its opening game by a 52-0 score.

Southern Utah 36, Dixie State 7

CEDAR CITY, Utah --Southern Utah overcame a slow start Thursday night but once the momentum got rolling the Thunderbirds cruised to a 36-7 victory over Dixie State in front of an Eccles Coliseum record 10,028 fans in the first football game between the two schools since 1962.

SUU moved the ball downfield on its first two possessions, getting inside the five yard line both times but the Red Storm defense stiffened each time, making the Thunderbirds settle for field goals.

Senior Ryan Griffith, a converted wide receiver who was kicking in a game for the first time since high school, was perfect however, hitting those first two, from 21 and 20 yards out, and all five of his attempts on the night. The five field goals in a game set an SUU single-game record.

Dixie scored the first touchdown of the game, on a 2-yard Tauni Vakapuna run midway through the second period, which capped a 10-play, 69 yard drive.

That score seemed to fire the Thunderbirds up, however as SUU went on to score 14 points in the final seven minutes of the half. The first was a 3-yard pass from Cade Cooper to Fesi Sitake, and the second came on a 10-yard pass from Ammon Olsen to Jared Ursua just 1:01 later.

Colin Pretlow and Robert Takeno did their part in setting up the second touchdown. A Pretlow hit on DSC receiver Skyler Ence forced a fumble and Takeno picked it up on the 32 yard line and ran it into the end zone. An official's inadvertent whistle denied Takeno his score,however, but Olsen and Ursua made sure the Thunderbirds were not completely denied.

"That was an unfortunate call but the official was man enough to admit he made a mistake," SUU Coach Ed Lamb said. "In a game where there were no breaks we finally got one. Fortunately we were able to punch it in."

Dixie State nearly pulled back within one score as time wound down in the half, but Akeem Anifowoshe knocked Ence out of bounds on the 2-yard line on a 22-yard reception as time expired in the period to maintain a 20-7 Thunderbird lead at the break.

SUU's defense took over in the second half, holding the Red Storm to just 15 third quarter yards and 56 in the fourth. Meanwhile,SUU got another Cooper-to-Sitake touchdown and three more Griffith field goals the rest of the way.

SUU finished with 433 total yards to 215 for Dixie State.

"This is a nice win," Lamb said. "We had a lot of questions to address. We had not only inexperienced players at some key positions but also our coaching staff doesn't have the years of experience Dixie State has."

Cooper "did everything we hoped he would do," Lamb noted,and he said he was also pleased with the rushing game, which finished with 244 yards, the team's most in a game in two seasons, including a 147-yard effort from sophomore tailback Austin Minefee.

"That's what we've worked on, running the football," Lamb said. "The bad thing is we weren't able to punch it in in the red zone, that's something we have to work on."

"It was fun being able to get in and contribute like that," Minefee said. "It's nice to be able to contribute. The line did a great job making holes for me, I was able to just hit the hole and make a cut."

Cooper completed 16-of-19 passes for 179 yards and the two scores and was also the team's second-leading rusher with 48 yards on seven carries without a sack. Sitake finished with eight receptions for 91 yards while Ursua had five catches for 66 and tight end Abbel Aiono had four receptions for 32 yards.

Thompson completed 16-of-27 passes for 146 yards but was intercepted once, on an athletic tip-and-catch play by SUU linebacker Drew Willard. Vakapuna led the Red Storm with 50 yards rushing on 13 carries.

Erron Vonner led the Thunderbirds with eight tackles while Anifowoshe had six and Takeno had five. Nick Cragin paced DSC with 14 stops, nine solo.