The UNC Bears football team had its second flirtation with success Saturday at the DakotaDome, but due to an overwhelming South Dakota offense that was simply not happening in UNC’s 43-28 loss.
The Bears kept pace with the 23rd ranked Coyotes for the first quarter, trading touchdown for touchdown.
One of the problems leading to the 15-point loss was the amount of penalties that cost the Bears significant yards and even a South Dakota touchdown drive.
After an interception and some very unpopular decisions by the referees, the Bear’s deficit began to grow and going into the half the Coyotes had a commanding 20-point lead.
Coming out from the half, the Bears showed a great fire and want to rally.
Despite a missed field goal of their own, the Bears produced a blocked field goal for the second time in two weeks.
The offensive line showed great promise in the run game, but quarterback sacks were a problem early and often.
The third quarter wrapped up with yet another controversial call by the referees forcing the Bears to go for it on fourth down.
Quarterback Jacob Knipp would lead the Bears to a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and again just a drive later.
‘Yotes fans instantly became more cautious and finally provided a little noise to the DakotaDome. Northern Colorado had fought and clawed its way to only a six-point deficit.
But would be the closest Northern Colorado would get to closing the gap since ‘Yotes QB Austin Simmons used his legs once again to stomp on the Bears’ momentum for a touchdown.
The proverbial “nail in the coffin” came when the Bears kick returner was rocked with a huge hit, causing a lost fumble and eventually leading to a ‘Yotes field goal.
UNC tried desperately to move down field and tack on some consolation points, but the time got away from the frantic offense and the Bears fell 43-28.
South Dakota came out firing on all cylinders with an unexpected no huddle offense. The ‘Yotes got big yardage on screens coming out of the trips formation.
Northern Colorado responded by a hit-and-miss start to the drive, but capitalized with a long wheel route catch by Alex Wesley and finished it off with Trae Riek rushing for a touchdown.
Austin Simmons was having trouble getting passes completed so he scrambled up the left side of the field for a long gain. UNC initially picked off the ball, but a controversial pass interference call gave the ‘Yotes a new set of downs and eventually a touchdown.
The Bears would again look to Wesley to be their savior with another big reception. Once in scoring position the Bears threw a pass to Riek for another touchdown.
Second Quarter: UNC 14, USD 14
South Dakota would pull ahead once again, but missed the extra point. This gave the UNC sidelines hope, only to have it dashed by a wobbly pass Knipp threw that was easily intercepted.
The two teams struggled back and forth, but a few big plays got South Dakota in scoring position. Austin Simmons would launch a perfect back-shoulder touch pass to Shamar Jackson in the back corner of the endzone.
In any game there will be penalties that are controversial, but the refs missed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Trae Riek was body slammed by linebacker Alex Gray.
The lack of call deflated the Bears offense leading to another punt but controversy would not be done interfering in the game as South Dakota’s next drive resulted in a touchdown, even though the ball was not secured.
With the ball not being secured, the UNC player ripped the ball away simultaneously with landing on the ground, but was later given a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct since the refs deemed the catch a touchdown.
Third Quarter: USD 34, UNC 14
After coming out after half time Coach Earnest Collins Jr. told the sideline reporter, “We just really need to execute.”
While Coach Collins and the Bears looked ready to fight, they also looked tired and frustrated. UNC would make a good drive until being forced into a long fourth down.
Collin Root attempted the kick, but his streak of missed field goals continued. USD had a similar drive, but instead of missing, the field goal attempt was blocked.
The Bears offense seemed cautiously optimistic and productive getting down into scoring position just before the quarter ended. One more time the UNC sidelines erupted with frustration when no penalty was called on a defender who obstructed the UNC player from making a catch.
Fourth Quarter: USD 34, UNC 14
Two plays later Theron Verna would get involved in the Bears offense by catching a touchdown pass from Knipp.
South Dakota increasingly struggled on offense with little run production and conservative play calling. On a fourth and 1, the Bears were able to make the stop.
Once again, Alex Wesley made a catch to keep the drive alive. Milo Hall and Trae Riek picked up some traction running thanks to the offensive line.
Wesley would go on to catch the touchdown pass and bring the Bears within six points of a comeback.
Simmons had trouble moving the ball until a giant pass down the middle put the ‘Yotes in scoring range.
After stalemating the ‘Yotes offense the Bears thought they still had a chance, but Simmons athletic ability shined through by sprinting out left for a touchdown.
UNC had one shot left, but they needed a big return. Jullen Ison had the ball and tons of speed, but he was blindsided with a huge hit and fumbled right to the South Dakota kicker.
The ‘Yotes would come away with that drive with a field goal and cemented feeling of a win looming. The Bears finished the game with a few more completions before their business trip to South Dakota had been closed.
The Mirror’s Keys to the Game Checklist
Turnovers forced? None. One of the key reasons for the loss is UNC let South Dakota control their own destiny.
Follow Assignments? Not well on either side of the ball. Offensive lineman needed to better protect Knipp, and the secondary needed to crack down on big gains.
Wrap up tackles? Could be better, especially on the edge of the field where the majority of the big gain passes came from.
Blocking? 50/50. The run lanes were available and some were pretty decent. On the other hand, Knipp was getting thrashed by sacks and hard hits.
Revive the run game? Again 50/50. The yards were not any higher for Riek, but the rushes were spread out with the receivers and worked above average progress from the week before.
Be patient, Knipp? YES, except for one throw. Other than his one interception, Knipp did a great job hitting passes that mattered.