Augustana lost the Key to the City in a deflating 35-20 loss to the University of Sioux Falls last Saturday at Kirkeby-Over Stadium.
It was a game where just about everything that could go wrong for the Vikings did. They battled, but it just wasn’t enough.
The Cougars struck first when they drove 67 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead, punctuated by a three-yard run by quarterback Luke Papilion 7:10 into the game.
Augustana hastily marched into Cougar territory on its next possession.
Junior running back Jackie Davis took a handoff around the left side on the second play of the drive, got a huge block from senior receiver Matt Heller, and appeared to be on the verge of bursting another 40 yards into the end zone.
But Davis and a Viking lineman got their feet tangled. Davis fell to the ground, settling for a 15-yard pickup.
After a penalty and a sack moved the Vikings backward, a once-promising drive ended in a missed field goal.
“That drive should’ve ended in points,” head coach Jerry Olszewski said. “But that’s football. Things like that are going to happen.”
On the Vikings’ fourth possession, they lost Heller for the game after a USF defender made helmet-to-helmet contact with Heller while trying to break up a deep pass.
It was a major blow, as Heller entered the game leading the country in touchdown receptions and was second in receiving yards entering the USF game.
“It was unfortunate,” Olszewski said. “He created a lot of matchup problems with USF’s secondary.”
The Cougars scored on their next two possessions, taking a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. But it wasn’t over for Augustana.
“Everyone [outside of the team] was probably saying it was over,” Olszewski said. “Well, then we go and score twice in three minutes.”
Augustana responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive before blocking a USF punt, and scoring again 1:28 later to cut the deficit to 21-13.
“We just needed some momentum,” said senior defensive end Bryson Hamilton, who had nine total tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss. “Our defense fed off of that momentum, and we were able to play a lot better for most of the second and third quarters. Unfortunately, we couldn’t put a whole game together.”
Augustana had two solid chances to close the gap further.
The Vikings got another stop after their second touchdown just before halftime. The offense reached the USF 29, but the Cougar defense stuffed sophomore running back Caden Quintanilla twice with just a yard to gain on third and fourth down.
Then Augustana reached the USF eight-yard line early in the third, but a Trey Heid interception ended the drive. A few plays before that, junior receiver Nate Merriman just narrowly missed a long touchdown when USF defensive back Jeffrey Harman tipped the ball away from Merriman at the last second.
Augustana wouldn’t have a solid scoring opportunity again until it was too late.
Heid led the Vikings on offense with 293 yards passing, two touchdowns and 74 rushing yards. He also threw two picks.
Senior receiver Charlie Hayes returned from a finger injury to catch eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Merriman caught the other touchdown from Heid.
Augustana now turns its attention to Saturday’s game against Wayne State. They need a win.
“Anytime you lose a tough game like that it stings,” Hamilton said. “But we don’t like to dwell on the past. As Coach [Olszewski] likes to say, we are a ‘windshield football team.’ We are always looking forward.”
Senior right tackle Chris Mathieu echoed Hamilton’s sentiments.
“We’re ready to restart the season at this point,” Mathieu said. “Every week we have the mentality of not defeating ourselves.”