ST. GEORGE – Dixie State’s last-second prayer wasn’t answered as the Trailblazers dropped a 31-27 home game to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Saturday night at Legend Solar Stadium.
Down 31-27 and facing a second-and-10 on the SDMT 46-yard line, DSU backup quarterback Josh Thompson avoided a sack, stepped up in the pocket and heaved the ball to the end zone. With only 12 seconds remaining, it seemed the prudent choice. South Dakota’s defense had two defensive backs waiting for the pass in the end zone, however, and the final pass was intercepted by SDMT’s Rafael Arellano to extinguish Dixie State’s comeback.
“We should have never been in that situation,” said DSU coach Shay McClure. “Not taking anything from South Dakota, but mental mistakes, selfish penalties and a defeatist attitude earlier in the game hurt us tonight.”
The Trailblazers had five personal foul penalties that not only gave up big yardage but also kept South Dakota drives alive.
The game was a defensive battle in the first half with each team putting up one score each. The Trailblazers scored first on a 15-yard run by running back Clifford Sims in the first quarter. There was a breakdown on the snap for the PAT, but Brad Duran collected the ball and threw it to Marika Lesuma for two points.
The Hardrockers would get on the board just before halftime with a 42-yard field goal by Joe Gera. DSU went into the break with an 8-3 lead.
On SDMT’s first possession of the second half, running back Kevin Thompson ran the ball three straight times. He gained 9 yards on the first two carries, but on the third he broke through the first wave of defenders to find daylight and raced 84 yards to the end zone. The 93 yards the Hardrockers gained on the drive nearly doubled the 49 yards DSU had allowed them in the first half. SDMT took its first lead, 10-8, with 12:49 showing in the third.
“We had some breakdowns defensively in the second half,” said DSU defensive tackle Malcolm Jackson. “We knew exactly what they were doing, but just had poor execution containing their ground game.”
From that point, the game turned into the barnburner most expected. Both teams traded scores over the next few series.
DSU scored on its next possession. Quarterback Tyson Blackner completed four consecutive passes to open the drive, with the last one a 51-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Aubrey Reed. Reed caught the ball at the 7-yard line, collided with teammate Cooper Robinson, then avoided two defenders by skirting to the end zone.
“It was a busted play,” said Reed. “I saw Tyson scramble and so I broke off and ran to that side of the field. I think Cooper did the same thing.”
It was Reed’s first trip to the end zone in two years after missing last year due to injury. “It was nice to get there,” said Reed. “I felt good tonight. I got more targets. It felt good to be able to help the team more.”
The failed PAT gave Dixie State a 14-10 lead with 11:43 left in the third.
SDMT answered on its next drive, going 59 yards in 10 plays to take a 17-14 lead on a pass from Jake Sullivan to Rashad Ridley. With just under seven minutes remaining in the third, the score was 17-14 in favor of the Hardrockers.
Dixie State reciprocated on its next possession. Running back Orlando Wallace finished a 72-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation. With the extra point, the DSU lead was 21-17. However, the Trailblazers would lose starting quarterback Tyson Blackner on the drive.
“Earlier in the drive he collided with the SDMT safety,” said McClure. “It didn’t feel right to him afterwards. We did not take any chances and pulled him.”
Before the quarter ended, the ‘Rockers would strike again. With just under two minutes remaining in the third, Sullivan would score with his legs on a 9-yard touchdown run.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Thompson, who had entered the game for Blackner, had his screen pass intercepted and returned 63 yards by SDMT’s Jake Fitzgerald to the DSU 9-yard line. Running back Dorian Cowart rushed for the touchdown on the next play to give SDMT a 31-21 lead.
SDMT effectively managed the game clock to run off precious time in the fourth quarter. DSU would score again with 4:21 remaining on an 11-yard run by Wallace, again from the wildcat formation. However, DSU again missed a crucial PAT that effectively forced them to score a touchdown instead of a tying field goal to avoid the loss.
The DSU offense would not get the ball back until only 38 seconds showed on the clock. The Trailblazers started at their 16-yard line. Thompson moved the ball 38 yards on two separate passes to set up the last pass that was intercepted in the end zone.
Individually, Blackner had a 138.6 quarterback rating by completing 19 of 29 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Thompson completed 7 of 14 for 93 yards. Blackner also led the rushing attack with 94 yards on 11 carries.
Wallace led the Trailblazers with 149 yards receiving on 12 catches. Reed had 101 yard on five catches. As a team, DSU outgained the Hardrockers 475-410 yards.
South Dakota Mines and Technology moves to 2-0 (1-0 in the RMAC). Dixie State falls to 1-1 (1-1 in the RMAC) and will travel to Spearfish, S.D., next week to take on Black Hills State. The game is scheduled for noon (MDT).
Stats: SDMT 31, DSU 27
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