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South Dakota has set the pace for football games decided at the wire

FARGO -- It's been a season of close football games for North Dakota State, with seven of them not being decided until late in the fourth quarter. That includes a couple of overtime games.

Bob Nielson is in his first year as South Dakota's head football coach after head coaching jobs at Western Illinois and Minnesota-Duluth.
Bob Nielson is in his first year as South Dakota's head football coach after head coaching jobs at Western Illinois and Minnesota-Duluth.

FARGO - It's been a season of close football games for North Dakota State, with seven of them not being decided until late in the fourth quarter. That includes a couple of overtime games.

The Bison, however, have nothing on the University of South Dakota in that department.

Eight of the Coyotes' last nine games have gone to the final minute and that includes three that went to double overtime. You can coach a lot of years and not have more than one overtime game in a season, much less three that go two extra periods.

"It's been an interesting year, obviously," said USD head coach Bob Nielson, in his 24th year as a head coach but first with the Coyotes. "I've been doing this for a long time and to have this many games decided on the last possession ... some of it is the strength of our league and some of it is a function of just our ability where we're at program-wise and how we have to win games right now."

These teams were not strangers to that last-second concept last year. USD beat the Bison 24-21 on Miles Bergner's 33-yard field goal as time expired, which would turn out to be NDSU's last loss of the season. The Bison won their next nine games to claim their fifth straight Division I FCS national title.

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Bergner is back and he's better than ever leading the FCS in punting with a 47.1-yard average and is the FCS's active leader in career field goals with 56. Last week, however, he missed a 32-yard field goal with the game tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter against South Dakota State and the Jackrabbits went 80 yards the other way for the go-ahead touchdown to win 28-21.

It ended USD's playoff hopes that would have been boosted with wins against Weber State, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, SDSU and potentially NDSU. All five teams will most likely be in the discussion to reach the 24-team field that will be announced Sunday morning.

"Certainly it's battled-tested our guys," Nielson said. "We've had some emotional wins and some hard-fought losses."

There's still plenty to play for. It's the last home game for 14 seniors and the Coyotes will be gunning for their first .500 season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference since joining the league in 2012.

Moreover, USD can keep NDSU from at least a share of its sixth straight Valley title. Three teams are still in the hunt. SDSU, which plays at UNI, is 6-1 along with NDSU. Third-place Youngstown State needs to beat Missouri State and NDSU and SDSU to both lose.

USD was missing three defensive starters to injury against SDSU and Nielson indicated it's questionable if they'll return this week. On offense, quarterback Chris Streveler is putting together one of the finest dual-threat seasons in school history.

"We have to do a good job of containing him and get a lot of hats on him," NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Streveler. "He's built a lot like a linebacker and is an exceptional athlete who is built really well. We're not going to stop him, we can only hope to slow him down."

He's had five games of rushing for at least 100 yards and needs 124 yards to break the school single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. It's currently held by Scott Jones set in 1986, the year USD met NDSU in the Division II national title game in Florence, Ala.

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"Chris has been a guy who has provided us with a lot of big plays," Nielson said.

Related Topics: FOOTBALLCHRIS KLIEMAN
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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