(The following blog was written by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, SD, who also writes The Genz blog — www.genzmania.com).
You can’t help but like the personable South Dakota head football coach Ed Meierkort.

Called by his own team as a player’s coach, he talks straight, offers humor in almost any situation and is loved by his players and supporters.

“He is definitely a player’s coach,” said USD junior receiver Will Powell. “I have learned so much from him. He has so much knowledge about the game. He is a great guy to play for.”

Meierkort, now 49-20 in his career (104-85 overall) at USD, knows how to win. He owns a 35-5 record at the DakotaDome, an unreal winning percentage of .875. The 35th home win came in a 30-17 decision over #1 FCS ranked Eastern Washington, the defending Football Championship Subdivision champion, on Saturday. It was the Chicago native’s second program-defining win at USD in two years after knocking off Minnesota in 2010.

The win over Eastern Washington is USD’s first-ever over a top-ranked FCS team and thus commands great importance for the program. However, it still counts for just one win and evens the Coyotes at 1-1 on the season. Yet, the victory does provide important momentum for the Coyotes, who suffered through a 4-7 season a year ago, when a run of six .500 or winning seasons ended at the state’s oldest university.

It is obvious that the 2010 season didn’t set well with him, his staff or players that last season. The year that started so promising with a 41-38 win over Big 10 Minnesota in game two and a ranking of #24 in the national polls, ended badly with five losses in six games. So like the win at Minnesota, the victory against Eastern Washington creates a buzz among the Coyote faithful and provides confidence to a senior-laden team. What happens over the next nine games will determine the legacy of this team and how the win on Saturday played into a special season.

Last spring, Meierkort set two major goals for his football team. One was to work on finishing games, a major problem for the Coyotes in 2010. And, the second, to get more “medieval.” He wanted his team to play more physical and develop a tougher, grind it out mentality.

“I always seems to sound like this but we have to get more medieval with our running game,” said Meierkort, just two coaching wins away from tying Joe Salem (51) for third on the Coyotes’ career wins list. “We need to make our run game as feared as it was when we were in the North Central. It didn’t matter who you were, we were going to line it up and pound it,” he said.

Both goals seem to be taking root. Despite a week one loss to NCAA DI Air Force, the Coyotes stayed after the Falcons to the end. Down 37-7 in the third quarter, the Coyotes closed to 37-20 and had another second half scoring opportunity fizzle inside the 10-yard line.

Then, this past weekend, USD knocked off Eastern Washington, a team that a week ago had nearly beat Washington of the PAC 10 (lost 30-27). The win on Saturday has earned the Coyotes major respect and a place in the FCS top 25. USD is ranked 23rd in the FCS Coaches Poll and 24th in Sports Network/Fathead.com poll.

This season per Meierkort’s goal, the Coyotes have committed to the ground game behind an offensive line that features pro prospect Tom Compton and averages over 300 pounds. The big uglies are grinding it out and rekindling the Coyote way (running and stop the run).

In the loss to Air Force, the Coyotes rushed for 184 yards on 44 carries. USD followed that up with 198 yards rushing in 43 carries in its win over Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, quarterback Dante Warren has added balance by completing 23-of-41 passes for 310 yards with three TDs and four interceptions. On the defense, they have allowed 448 yards rushing, although just 11 on 19 carries to Eastern Washington.

It is clear the Coyotes are going to mix it up this season. It appears to be their focus and that of their coach. Both the offensive and defensive lines are showing their nastiness. The offensive line has allowed the ground game to regain some of its swagger and the defense, including a talented front, has four sacks, 11 tackles for loss and have forced five turnovers (USD has committed four).

Somewhere in Sioux City, Iowa, I’m betting former Coyote coach Beanie Cooper is talking about his former team. In Sioux Falls, it is likely Joe Salem is proud of his former team. A few miles down the road Dave Triplett is too, even if his alma mater (Iowa) lost a tough game to in-state rival Iowa State last weekend. And, Harry Gamage, Leonard “Bud” Allison, Ion Cortright, A.H. Whittemore and Rev. James Henderson, and other Coyote mentors gone now, also must have a crease across their faces in the heavens. All of these former coaches focused on running the ball and stopping the run. It led to wins, a lot of them.

The Coyotes’ win over #1 FCS ranked Eastern Washington ranks among the best home wins of all time. Is it is as important as defeating a Big 10 team? I’m not the expert here. That conversation or argument will be made by others in media forums, bar conversations or pre-game tailgates.

In its storied history, USD has had some big moments. The Coyotes own three wins over NCAA 1A schools — Nebraska, 6-5, 1899; Minnesota, 10-0, 1912; and Minnesota, 41-38, 2010. Interestingly, the Nebraska win happened in Vermillion at University Park (near Old Main) in the first and last time that the Cornhuskers traveled to the USD campus.

Among the other big wins in Coyote history include the 38-14 win by Triplett’s 1985 Coyotes against the defending national champion North Dakota State at the DakotaDome. That same season, USD defeated Central State (Ohio) at the Dome (13-10 OT) in the first playoff game played indoors in NCAA DII. Then there was 1986 and USD’s first round playoff come-from-behind victory over 2nd-ranked Cal-Davis, 26-23, a team that was led by the nation’s passing leader Chris Peterson (now the Boise State head coach). Also in 1986, Coyotes had a 42-28 playoff semifinal win over third-ranked Troy State, who had won a DII title in 1984, at the DakotaDome. It was the victory that sent the Coyotes to its only playoff national title game. Therefore, it too, has to rank high among the most important wins ever.

A side note, the Coyotes lost the title game to NDSU, 27-7, in the only matchup of two schools from the same league (NCC) in the NCAA DII championship game. After that game, the NCAA changed the playoff matchups to prevent two teams from the same league ever again battling in a championship game.

Other memorable wins include the 21-0 win by Joe Salem’s 9-1 Coyotes in 1968 over Montana. Don’t forget the NCC-titling cinching 21-3 win over Nebraska-Omaha in 1978 by Beanie Cooper’s Coyotes on regional ABC TV. In addition, Ed Meierkort’s Coyotes had a pair of big wins in 2005, including a 59-14 rout of fourth-ranked Nebraska-Omaha in the DakotaDome. That game was USD’s first big win in the Meierkort era. Current offensive coordinator Wesley Beschorner had a career and record-setting day with seven combined TDs (five throwing) and totaled 479 yards through the air. The win was also USD’s 100th win at the DakotaDome. Later that season, USD defeated North Dakota, 42-30, to clinch a share of the NCC title for the first time in 27 years. Meierkort called it the “biggest win of his career” to that point. Other big moments included a 6-6 tie in 1909 and a 0-0 tie with Nebraska in 1914.

Over the years, USD has also had numerous big wins against rivals like South Dakota State, North Dakota, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State and also a number of close calls against teams like Michigan (7-6 loss in 1912), Michigan State (3-3 tie in 1916), and Notre Dame (6-0 loss in 1915, in a game played). In 1913, USD lost 20-7 to coach Jess Harper’s Irish, led by the legendary Knute Rockne, All American quarterback Gus Dorias and South Dakota Hall of Fame receiver Fred Gushurt, after leading 7-0 at halftime.

The USD football program is indeed rich in history and long on success. It has 508 all-time wins and many more to come. It is right to recognize and take note of the win over then #1 Eastern Washington on Saturday. But in the long and short of it, it is just one game. Just ask Meierkort, a coach who fashions a much different 2011 than happened a year ago.

Winning is one game at a time, no matter the significance of a moment or game..

Some Perspective Please…

One of the fun things about being a sports fan in the information age is the opportunity to interact with media friends and others through online broadcasts and talk forums. However, last Saturday I was a little irritated at some fans “speaking their mind.” O’Gorman defeated Washington, 24-7, in the Dakota Bowl, to send the Warriors to their second straight defeat and end O’G’s four-game losing skein to Washington. During the course of the game on one of the area’s media forums, a number of people made some over the top comments about players in the game. I can understand “your team” losing but show a little sensitivity toward these young athletes. They are in high school. They don’t get paid like those in the NFL (and maybe some in college). Please continue to offer commentary but show a little sensitivity to the athletes and their family members.

Two anniversaries at USD… Kudos to the 1986 Coyote football team on their 25th anniversary (in 2011) of advancing to the NCAA Division II championship. For Coach Triplett, seven Coyote hall of Fame inductees and all the other players and supporters of that team, it was a year to remember. A lot of Coyote fans will never forget the thrills that team provided.

One other note, in 1886, baseball become the first sport to play competitively at the University. As such this year marks the 125th anniversary of sports on the state’s oldest campus. Congratulations to all those student-athletes, present and past, who give or have given their heart and soul every day, in every competition and in the classroom. Student-athletes are among the shining stars on our campuses.