Vikings upset by S.D. Mines and Tech
Every year in football, the center snaps a ball to his quarterback hundreds, if not thousands of times.
But as simple as it seemed late in Saturday's 39-28 loss to NCAA Division II South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, something went wrong for the Valley City State University football team.
The Vikings were in the middle of a drive following a touchdown by the Hardrockers that put VCSU down 32-28.
As quarterback Tommy Zinke called to start the play at the Hardrockers' 40-yard line, the snap went elsewhere, causing the ball to roll along Shelly Ellig Field's artificial turf, where it was picked up at the 50-yard line by safety Patrick Shaw, who ran it all the way back for a touchdown, effectively putting away the game with three minutes left after the point-after kick made it 39-28, clinching the team's first win of the year.
It was merely one of the moments that left Valley City coach Dennis McCulloch somewhat disappointed after the game.
He primarily pointed his finger towards the defense, which allowed two touchdowns in a 19-point fourth quarter for the Hardrockers.
"The thing is, we had so many plays and so many opportunities to change this game today and we just didn't do it," McCullocu said. "We didn't make the plays defensively when we had to.
"When we're up in the score from the start to late in the game, the defense has to find a way to come up with a sack. We know that. We had several opportunities for that to happen and we didn't do it."
Early on, the Vikings seemed like they had set a tone offensively.
It took only four plays, including one run and an incomplete pass, for the Vikes to get on the board.
The opening drive started with 44-yard pass from Zinke to Derek Elliot at the Rockers' 21. Taylor Cino then carried the ball three more yards. After an incomplete pass, Zinke hit Ken Eliacin with a pass in the middle of the end zone. Thomas Cortez's kick was good, giving the Vikings a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in.
After forcing a punt, the Vikings offense struggled on the second drive, which gave SDSMT the ball at the VCSU 45.
After two quick 15-yard penalties, including a roughing the passer call that wasn't well received by the large crowd at the stadium, the Hardrockers had first-and-10 at the VCSU 15. After three quick plays, the Rockers got the ball in, making it 7-6 after a failed two-point conversion.
When the Vikings got the ball back after a touchback on the kickoff, Derek Elliot had another big play.
When he took the handoff, he went left, but couldn't find the room to go anywhere. So he instead ran with the offensive line and found a gap on the right side of the field. He took off and ran it down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown.
"I thought it was going to stopped for a loss," Elliot said. "I cut back a little and a guy was right there, so I cut lateral, and next thing I know I'm trying to go up the backside. A guy's on me, but he slips off and then we've got some great lead blockers, so I went behind them for the endzone."
A kick by Cortez made it 14-6 with 6:34 left in the first quarter.
SDSMT evetually tied it, starting a drive with 1:02 left in the first. The drive started with a 15 yard run by Chris Sawdey that moved the ball to VCSU's 44.
Another run by Sawdey gave SDSMT a third-and-2 at the VCSU 36, but the Vikings were hit with a 5-yard penalty, which gave the Rockers a first down.
The drive continued into the second quarter as the Rockers patiently ran the ball, scoring on a goal-line push. A two-point conversion run made it 14-14.
The teams played chicken the rest of the way.
Elliot had a 15-yard touchdown reception with just under six minutes left in the first half to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.
SDSMT had an 18-yard passing touchdown with seven minutes left in the third, but missed two-point conversion to trail 21-20.
Elliot then had a 16-yard touchdown run with 2:45 left in the quarter to give VCSU the 28-20 lead going into the fourth.
The Rockers narrowed the lead early in the final quarter.
They started a drive at VCSU's 42-yard line after a punt. Jahmel Rover started the drive with a five-yard run, but followed it up with a 36-yard run, stepping out of bounds at VCSU's 1. Mike Zanutto scored a touchdown three plays later.
The teams then traded punts, briefly, including a punt by Zinke that put the Rockers at their own seven.
Early in the drive, VCSU stopped the run, limiting Sawdey and Zanutoo to six yards on the first two downs. The Vikings forced an incomplete pass on third down, but instead were hurt by an offsides call that gave the Rockers a first down.
The drive ended on a 24-yard touchdown run by Rover.
VCSU finished the game with 10 penalties for 101 yards.
Though the Vikings finished with more offensive yards than SDSMT, they struggled at times. Zinke finished 13-31 for 206 yards, often missing receivers by short margins.
Elliot led VCSU in rushing and receiving, picking up 114 yards in seven attempts on the ground, and 105 receiving yards on six catches.
As an independent school, McCulloch said every win is crucial if the team wants another trip to the NAIA national tournament.
"It seems unfair that this time of year, you have to think about 'Okay, we jeopardized having a chance to make playoffs' but that's where it's at," he said. "We knew that going in, how important every game was."