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    USD FB: South Dakota 31, Southern Illinois 24

    CARBONDALE, Ill.—South Dakota defended more than 100 plays while watching its offense come alive in the second half to produce a 31-24 win against Southern Illinois Saturday at Saluki Stadium in the MVFC opener for both teams.

    It is the 200th career win for the Coyotes’ Bob Nielson, who becomes the 91st college football coach to reach the plateau. He is the 17th active NCAA coach with 200 wins. Nielson is 200-94-1 in 26 seasons at the helm.

    Dakarai Allen caught six passes for a career-high 183 yards including a 89-yard bomb from quarterback Austin Simmons that gave South Dakota (2-2, 1-0 MVFC) a 31-17 lead near the end of the third quarter. Earlier in the quarter, Randy Baker caught touchdown passes of 9 and 45 yards that helped USD erase a 17-10 halftime deficit. 

    The two teams combined for 971 yards on 176 plays, but Southern Illinois (1-3, 0-1) mustered points on just four of 19 possessions. One of the Salukis’ three touchdowns followed a Coyote turnover and needed just 20 yards. The final SIU score came against a prevent defense in the final minute of the game.

    The Coyote offense didn’t fare much better, at least until the third quarter. South Dakota had been shut out in three third quarters this season, but Simmons completed 8 of 9 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns in this frame. USD ran just 15 plays in the third quarter and possessed the ball for less than five minutes, but the big plays turned the tables nonetheless. 

    Defensively, South Dakota held Southern Illinois to 5 of 17 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down. Mark Collins Jr. intercepted Sam Straub on the Salukis’ third play from scrimmage and returned the pick to the 9. Two plays later, Kai Henry was in the end zone on a 1-yard plunge and USD led 7-0. 

    Coyote safety Andrew Gray, who had a career-high 14 tackles, picked off Schaub at the USD 11 in the third quarter with USD leading 24-17. Two plays later, Simmons found a wide open Allen streaking down the right sideline for an easy score and a two-score lead. Simmons finished 18 of 35 for 333 yards. 

    The hat trick came when linebacker Jack Cochrane forced Straub to fumble on a scramble in USD territory with less than five minutes remaining. DeValon Whitcomb recovered for the Coyotes to end the threat. 

    Straub completed 32 of 59 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns. His favorite target was tight end Nigel Kilby who caught seven balls for 109 yards and both scores. D.J. Davis ran 21 times for 117 yards to pace the Saluki run game. 

    SIU’s Javon Williams ran in from 1 yard out with 60 seconds left to make it 31-24, but Allen recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Coyotes and two knees ended it. 

    Ben Klett ran 11 times for 62 yards to lead the Coyotes’ ground game and Kai Henry added 45 yards on nine carries. Baker tied his career-high with 80 yards on six catches. He had his first two-touchdown game and doubled his career tally to four. 

    The Coyotes head back to Vermillion and will host upstart Missouri State (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) in their annual Dakota Days game next Saturday inside the DakotaDome. The Bears knocked off 10th-ranked Illinois State 24-21 Saturday in Springfield, Mo.

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