BROOKINGS, S.D. — Hours after Nebraska lost a big lead Saturday, its next foe did the exact opposite.
FCS No. 6 South Dakota State trailed Southeastern Louisiana — a team that stuck close to TCU for a half and features a former Oregon quarterback — 19-7 early in the third quarter at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
The Jackrabbits (3-0) rallied for a 34-26 victory, staying unbeaten heading into their road game at Nebraska this week, by forcing four turnovers in the final period.
Council Bluffs St. Albert grads Andrew Brown and Jake Gentile are the starting safeties for the South Dakota State defense. They combined for 10 tackles in the win over the Lions, and Brown had an interception in the final period.
“It was crazy. It was an up-and-down game the whole game, with turnovers and that kind of stuff,” said Brown, who was named the game’s outstanding player. “We came together and we got a team win.”
Said Gentile: “At the end of the day, we’re 3-0 going to Nebraska. That’s what we wanted.”
The Jackrabbits come to Lincoln riding the momentum of consecutive thrilling wins. Two Saturdays ago, they held off North Dakota 35-28 for their first victory in Grand Forks, N.D., since 1989
Gentile said SDSU is aware of the fact that 13 FCS (formerly I-AA) teams have beaten FBS teams this season, including six from BCS conferences. Two of those wins were by No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 7 Northern Iowa, which are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference with SDSU.
In addition, MVFC member Missouri State trailed Iowa only 7-0 at halftime in Iowa City two weeks ago while Purdue needed need a late interception at home to squeak by Indiana State 20-14 the same day.
Gentile said his team considers the Valley to be the Southeastern Conference of the FBS.
“We feel there’s not much difference, if any difference, between the divisions,” he said. “People have seen the trends. We feel we can play with anyone. We’re going in approaching it just like any other game. Just playing it close isn’t going to count as a ‘W’ for us. We’re going in there planning, and trying our best, to win.”
Brown said the Jackrabbits won’t be intimidated by facing the Huskers in front of more than 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium, even though it will be the largest crowd of their careers.
“It’s pretty crazy. But as I tell Gentile every day, they put their shoes on and pads on the same way we do,” he said. “They’re nothing special.”
Nebraska’s receivers will have a size advantage on the SDSU secondary, which also features Omaha Burke grad Jimmy Forsythe at one corner and Underwood, Iowa, native Austin Knowlton as the backup at the other. Gentile, at 6-foot-1, is the only player in the defensive backfield that is taller than 6 feet.
He said size makes no difference.
“Everyone’s always told us, to get to where we were, that we were too small and coming from too small of a school,” he said. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. When the ball’s up in the air, we’re expecting to get it every bit as much as they are.”
SDSU’s defense has 12 takeaways this season. Its offense has yet to turn the ball over.
“The coaches do a good job of coaching us, teaching us what to do in certain situations against certain opponents,” Brown said. “The credit goes to them.”
Brown, a senior, was a two-year starter at Iowa Western before joining his junior counterpart in Brookings last fall. He and Gentile were teammates on St. Albert’s Class 1-A state championship team in 2009. They became starters at SDSU for the first time this season.
“It’s special. Not a lot of people get to do it, let alone from a small 1-A school,” Gentile said. “It sounds clichť, but we know what each other is going to do. I know how Brown’s going to play, and Brown knows how I’m going to play. I feel like we can really help control the defense and feed off of each other.”
The safeties are hoping to help the Jackrabbits earn a berth in the FCS playoffs for the second time this fall. After visiting Nebraska, South Dakota State plays host to reigning two-time national champion North Dakota State the following week. It also has UNI at home in late October.
The Council Bluffs natives said they’ll take them as they come.
“We’re playing every week to be 1-0,” Gentile said.
Added Brown: “Just win one game at a time. That’s it.”