Warren leads South Dakota past Gophers
Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Dante Warren passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns for South Dakota and scampered for a 25-yard score on fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter, sealing a 41-38 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
Warren, a junior from Arlington Heights, Ill., in his first year as a starter, spurred the Coyotes (1-1) to a program-defining stunner over the Golden Gophers (1-1) who -- gulp -- host No. 16 Southern Cal next week.
Warren finished with 81 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and completed 21-of-30 passes, mystifying a Minnesota team that couldn't tackle or cover much at all in this nightmare home opener against a neighbor school in its third year at the FCS level.
Coyotes coach Ed Meierkort had his hands on his head as the game ended, as if to say, "I can't believe we just won."
Duane Bennett, who rushed 18 times for 104 yards, kept the Gophers competitive with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, the last with 3:21 left to cut the lead to three.
But not even a missed extra point or two interceptions thrown by Warren were enough to slow these wily Coyotes, who took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Will Powell caught eight passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns for South Dakota, which lost 38-7 at Central Florida last week in its first game against an FBS foe.
Every time the Gophers have played one of their upstart neighbors to the west, they've had trouble. North Dakota State came within one point in 2006 and won at the Metrodome in 2007. Minnesota had to scrap for a 16-13 victory over South Dakota State University last November.
These teams moving up from Division II always bring their best, but the struggles are also a sign of the state of Minnesota's once-proud program.
On an idyllic afternoon for football, with a blue sky, a breeze and 64 degrees, Troy Stoudermire took the opening kickoff 44 yards across midfield and the Gophers reached the 9. But Bennett was tackled for a loss on third-and-3, and Eric Ellestad had to kick a short field goal.
The Gophers turned the ball over twice in the first half, on a failed fourth down at the South Dakota 30 and a fumble by Adam Weber at the Coyotes 30 in the closing seconds. Ellestad, who missed from 39 and 40 yards in the opening win at Middle Tennessee, also hooked a 48-yard field goal left.
Weber missed on a few throws, but he was just as sharp, going to MarQueis Gray -- the ultra-athletic, 6-foot-4 sophomore who is also his backup -- often and even wiggling around for 47 yards on six rushes.
He found Stoudermire open on a post pattern from 49 yards out for Minnesota's first touchdown and hit Gray and Da'Jon McKnight for scores in the third quarter. Weber was 21 for 31 for 258 yards.
Warren, listed generously at 6-foot-1, ran around in the pocket and fired the ball fearlessly upfield like a 2010 version of Doug Flutie. Bad tackling by the Gophers helped, too, with three whiffs along the sideline on a 30-yard pass from Warren to Chris Ganious that set up the first scoring toss to Powell. Then three more missed tackles on a 26-yard screen pass to Ganious gave the Coyotes a 21-10 lead, and boos followed the Gophers into the locker room a few minutes later.
The Coyotes clearly had fun -- this was their Super Bowl after all, as Meierkort put it this week -- from start to finish. After Powell's 61-yard catch and run early in the third quarter gave South Dakota a 28-10 lead, he jogged through the end zone and leaped toward the seats Lambeau-style for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that shortened the field for the ensuing touchdown by the Gophers.
But the Coyotes didn't flinch, answering McKnight's touchdown catch that cut the lead to 28-24 with an 81-yard march in seven plays capped by Warren's untouched 25-yard run on a simple rollout.