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SDSU's Sumner calm in pocket
Freshman earns first win; much more work to do
The South Dakota State coaching staff has been measured in its public praise of redshirt freshman Austin Sumner, perhaps wary of piling on the already high expectations for the Brandon Valley grad, one of the best high school quarterbacks in South Dakota history.
But there was no need for interpretation Saturday. The 6-foot-5 Sumner earned the ultimate seal of approval - a win, 35-28 over Youngstown State in his third career start. What’s more, it came on the road and required a fourth-quarter comeback to snap a four-game slide. Plus, there’s clearly room for further improvement.
“He’ll never get rattled,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, who picked up his 90th win. “He’s so calm out there. He plays in the present better than anybody I’ve seen at his age.”
That poise was on display late. Sumner completed his final eight attempts, going 7 of 7 on the game-tying drive early in the fourth quarter before hitting Aaron Rollin for a 73-yard bomb on a first-down play with less than 6 minutes left. He pump faked and then dropped the ball in perfectly along the right sideline for the program’s longest offensive play in three years.
Sumner also led SDSU (2-4, 1-2) to 10 third-down conversions, a season-high in a previously sticky area. He hit on 63 percent of his passes, a career-high. He threw for 345 yards, another career-high and 108 more than anybody else against the Penguins this year, including Michigan State.
His passing total has grown in each of three weeks as a starter - as has the SDSU point total - and he’s the first SDSU quarterback since Ryan Berry in 2008 to hit 300 yards two weeks in a row. The previous signal caller, Thomas O’Brien, who quit the team after Week 3, topped the 300 mark only once in 20 career starts.
Still, Sumner had an interception returned for a touchdown for the second straight week, after which he got after receiver Dale Moss. He fumbled away an iffy shotgun snap deep in YSU territory when the Jacks were on the verge of taking a two-score lead. He wasn’t great on the move and failed to convert a third-down sneak that would have iced the game with 2:15 left, allowing the Penguins to get the ball back and forcing the SDSU defense to get another stop inside its 20.
However, he got that initial victory - the Jacks’ fourth in a row against YSU, winners of four Football Championship Subdivision titles in the 1990s.
Afterward, Sumner just looked more confident, another important progression with two top-5 foes - Northern Iowa and North Dakota State - on deck.
“I found out what it takes to win,” he said. “It’s an every-play deal. You can’t take a break. You’ve got to come out fast and at halftime you have to move it. We kind of lacked there. We’ll work on some things.”
SDSU played the first half without linebackers Dirk Kool and Mike Lien, seniors, captains and the top two tacklers on the team. They were suspended for what Stiegelmeier classified as a violation of team rule. He wouldn’t elaborate.
But the Jacks didn’t miss a beat, coming up with two interceptions and taking a 21-14 lead into the break. The picks were produced by junior linebackers Chris Tracy and Ross Shafrath, who started in place of Lien and Kool.
“They accepted responsibility,” Stiegelmeier said of the disciplined players. “We’re going to be a better team because of that.”