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South Dakota aware of challenge it faces at Air Force
South Dakota players are excited any time they get to face a higher-division team from the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Coyotes’ fans like taking a swing at a team like Air Force.
The coaches don’t share the exuberance.
“Coaches don’t like ‘em, I’ll be honest,” South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said with a laugh. “You’re booking losses.”
South Dakota hasn’t been shy about scheduling games against FBS foes. The Coyotes scheduled two last season, and three weeks after playing at Air Force, they will play at Wisconsin. This is just the fourth year since the Coyotes moved from Division II to Division I Football Championship Subdivision. The athletic department needs money. The check it gets for a game against a big-name school is huge. Meierkort understands this.
But here’s the difference with South Dakota: Not all of their games against FBS teams have resulted in a loss. The Coyotes beat Minnesota 41-38 last season. And while that is one of the signature moments in USD athletics, it didn’t make Meierkort’s job easier. The Coyotes won’t sneak up on anyone again soon.
“We shot a warning signal, unfortunately,” Meierkort said. “I’m glad we did it, but now if we’re going to beat a team, we need to be better than them.”
South Dakota’s players won’t back down from anyone they play.
“They put on their pads just like we do,” said quarterback Dante Warren, who had 433 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the Minnesota win. “I’ve been here five years and every player I’ve seen come through here has a story. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. We all could have ended up at bigger places. The chips just didn’t fall that way.”
Warren almost went to Northern Illinois, but NIU gave its open scholarship to another quarterback. He had interest from Navy but didn’t want to make the commitment. He could have played defensive back at Eastern Michigan or Cincinnati. South Dakota offered him a chance to play quarterback, so that’s where he went.
This week, Air Force’s coaches and players have talked about how impressive Warren’s arm is, and how he combines that with exceptional running ability. He could probably play at college football’s highest level, but he settles for playing against teams from the highest level.
“To go on a stage like this, it’s what you play football for,” Warren said.
Beating Minnesota gives his players confidence they can pull off another upset, but Meierkort keeps it in perspective. He said last year the staff didn’t believe it had much chance to win at Central Florida. The matchup against Minnesota was different, because the Coyotes matched up well on the offensive and defensive lines.
He said Air Force provides a lot of problems because the Falcons won’t make many exploitable mistakes. He said he hopes South Dakota can get into the second half with a chance to win, but he also knows there’s a reason many teams avoid scheduling the Falcons, whose schemes are difficult to prepare for.
“I told our AD, if Oklahoma didn’t want to play them, what the heck are we doing playing them?” Meierkort said.
BY FRANK SCHWAB, THE GAZETTE