BROOKINGS, S.D. — South Dakota State showed what it could do with the football Saturday night, and it wasn't pretty.
SIU went three-and-out on its opening two drives and turned it over on its third, opening the door to a big offensive night by the defending Missouri Valley Football Conference champions. The eighth-ranked Jackrabbits, who scored seven points on just 37 plays in a loss at Youngstown State last weekend, scored a touchdown on all five of their first-half possessions and rolled over the Salukis 49-14 for their first conference win of the season.
"They really won in every phase of the football game," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "Got all the momentum at the very beginning. We weren't able to do anything to kind of get that momentum back, or get anything started in the first half, so we got into halftime and it was 35-0. We didn't stop 'em, but we didn't do anything on offense to get the momentum back, or make it a shootout. Didn't do anything to help the defense out."
South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion, the league's offensive player of the year last year, threw for four touchdowns in the first half and finished with 216 yards. Running back Brady Mengarelli rushed for a career-high 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, as the Jackrabbits made SIU's defense look like the unit of old. South Dakota State had more rushing yards at the half, 211 on 26 carries, than the Salukis had allowed in an entire game this season.
SIU (2-3, 0-2 MVFC) hadn't allowed a scoring play longer than 14 yards in their first four games, but gave up touchdowns of 16, 23, 28 and 32 yards in front of an announced crowd of 12,891 fans.
SIU safety Ryan Neal, who had a game-high nine tackles, said the defense's lack of execution was on all 11 guys out there.
"It was all on us. We had the game plan, had it all dialed up. We just gotta execute," he said. "Like I've said in games before, every time we lost, it's not like the other team is so much better than us, we just gotta execute the calls that we got put in. As a team, it was just across the board."
Things spiraled out of control quickly for SIU in its first trip to Dykhouse Stadium, South Dakota State's $60 million-plus facility that opened last year. Punter Lane Reazin, the conference's leading punter, had his first punt partially blocked. The Jackrabbits (4-1, 1-1) pounced on the short field with a five-play, 55-yard touchdown drive capped by Christion's 10-yard pass to Marquise Lewis.
South Dakota State went 67 yards on five plays to go up 14-0. Christion found backup tight end Skyler Cavanaugh from 16 yards out for the longest scoring play against SIU this season. Lewis and Cavanaugh's touchdowns were the first of their careers.
The Salukis avoided their first shutout in 17 years when quarterback Sam Straub kept the ball for a 6-yard touchdown run over the right side at the 4:01 mark of the third quarter. Matt Sotiropoulos hit the extra-point attempt. Straub found Raphael Leonard for a 39-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter — SIU's longest scoring play of the season — but the Salukis finished with 263 yards of total offense.
South Dakota State rushed for 368 yards on 55 carries and threw for 216, for 584 total yards. And the Jackrabbits did most of it without All-American tight end Dallas Goedert, who caught only two passes for 29 yards after getting injured in the first quarter. Up 28-0 with more than nine minutes to go in the first half, he never came back. All-American wide receiver Jake Wieneke caught three passes for 27 yards and one touchdown, the 50th of his career to tie for fourth place in FCS history.
As SIU dropped its third straight game, South Dakota State got back into the MVFC race with a big victory.
"I was really proud of the way we came out in the first half," South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said. "We were embarassed last weekend, and you wondered how that was going to affect our team, and our guys came out and played about as perfect as I've ever seen us play, so, really proud of that. I thought they fell off a bit, but they're human beings, and, really happy with the win."