Jackrabbits left reeling after losing winnable road test

One South Dakota State player said Minn. was comparable to other FCS teams.

Jackrabbits left reeling after losing winnable road test

Austin Cumblad

At first glance, it may seem like the only thing the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State have in common is small mammals for mascots, which may be fitting for both programs. The Jackrabbits set season records for attendance this year, averaging 13,265 fans per game at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium . On Saturday, they played the Gophers at brand new TCF Bank Stadium, where 50,805 seats were sold out for the entire season. When Minnesota reviews film this week, it will meet in the team room at the Gibson Nagurski Football Complex, a theater of sorts complete with stadium seating. South Dakota State will be in four renovated trailer homes that were donated to the program. The Gophers play within minutes of downtown Minneapolis. Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier sometimes has to remind people that South Dakota State is in Brookings. Minnesota is a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) team in the Big Ten. South Dakota State moved to Division I-AA in 2004 (now Football Championship Subdivision) and plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. Considering the differences in stadiums, resources, location and division, few expected SaturdayâÄôs meeting between the teams to be as close as it was. Junior kicker Eric Ellestad slipped a 25-yard field goal inside the left upright with 2:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Gophers slid past the Jackrabbits and into bowl eligibility with a 16-13 win . Conventional wisdom would suggest one of two things: A) Minnesota played down to its competition, or B) South Dakota State played especially well. The Jackrabbits would like to put forth a third hypothesis: This was an evenly matched game. âÄúThe Gophers are a great football team and everything, but theyâÄôre no better than Northern Iowa. TheyâÄôre no better than Southern Illinois and other [FCS] teams that weâÄôve played this year,âÄù Jackrabbits running back Kyle Minett said minutes after the final gun Saturday. South Dakota State beat Northern Iowa 24-14 this year , about a month and a half after the Panthers lost by one to Iowa because of two blocked field goals at the end of the game . On Saturday, the No. 10 Hawkeyes were playing for a Big Ten title against No. 11 Ohio State; they lost on a field goal in overtime. Point is, South Dakota State didnâÄôt believe for a second that Minnesota is some untouchable team because it trumps the Jackrabbits by a huge margin in terms of funding, facilities and exposure. South Dakota State had every intention of winning the game. âÄúI encouraged them to not find a whole lot of comfort in playing the Minnesota Gophers close,âÄù Stiegelmeier said. âÄúItâÄôs not the end of the world that we lost the football game. It is the end of the world if you play people close, and you think you won.âÄù If the post-game reaction was any indication, none of the Jackrabbits have that mentality. Answers were short and looks were dejected. Linebacker Derek Domino, who returned an interception for a touchdown , was asked if South Dakota State will be more highly regarded in the FCS after coming so agonizingly close to an upset that rival North Dakota State pulled off in 2007 . âÄúIâÄôm not really sure,âÄù Domino said. âÄúWe still lost the game when it comes down to it.âÄù The Jackrabbits hear it all the time. âÄúTheyâÄôre good for being from South Dakota,âÄù or âÄúTheyâÄôre good for an FCS team,âÄù or âÄúTheyâÄôre good considering their facilities (or lack thereof).âÄù Stiegelmeier said all the qualifiers bother him âÄútremendously.âÄù Had quarterback Thomas OâÄôBrien not fumbled that shotgun snap deep in South Dakota State territory late in the fourth quarter, had one of the JackrabbitsâÄô two missed field goals sailed through the uprights instead , those qualifiers might have disappeared. âÄúEverybody around here âÄî other than the Gophers âÄî might say, âÄòYou could have won, you should have won,âÄôâÄù Stiegelmeier said. âÄúWell, that doesnâÄôt go in the ticker. ItâÄôs a 16-13 loss to Minnesota.âÄù A few minutes later, Stiegelmeier was again talking about whether the game changed South Dakota StateâÄôs prominence in the FCS. He brought up a 14-7 loss to No. 13 Cal Poly in 2004 , the JackrabbitsâÄô first year in Division I-AA, and remembered similar talk about the loss actually being good for the program. Six years later, that discussion is long forgotten. âÄúWeâÄôve got to win,âÄù Stiegelmeier said. He started his next sentence with âÄúIâÄôm not saying,âÄù then paused for a few seconds. âÄúYouâÄôve got to win.âÄù