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Harrisonburg, Va. — The South Dakota State football team, playing at home Oct. 14, was defeated 38-18 by Northern Iowa.
It was the second loss in three games and left the Jackrabbits with a 1-2 record in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The loss also did some soul-searching moments for the squad.
“We really went back to our team basics of trying to be 1-0 every week. Those two losses in the conference humbled us. It made us refocus,” said junior offensive lineman Tyler Weir, who is from Arvada and was a starter in football at Dolores and Pomana high schools.
The losses also spurred a winning streak for SDSU, which won seven games in a row before losing 51-16 at No. 1 ranked James Madison University here on Saturday in the semifinals of the FCS tournament in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia before more than 16,000 and a national audience on ESPNU.
With the win JMU will play in the national title game Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas against North Dakota State, which won the other semifinal game at home Friday over Sam Houston State.
South Dakota State defeated North Dakota State in regular-season play this year and won 19-17 at North Dakota State in 2016.
“They were the defending national champs. We can perform on the big stage,” Weir said.
But the Jackrabbits were undone by five turnovers in the first quarter and 10 overall in the loss at JMU, which has won 26 games in a row.
“We say goodbye to 15 seniors tonight. I am so proud of what they have done,” said John Stiegelmeier, the veteran head coach of the Jackrabbits. “My hat goes off to JMU, coach (Mike) Houston, the type of program they have. They are a really good football team.”
Weir played in seven games last year as a sophomore and played in the final six contests, including FCS playoff games against Villanova and North Dakota State.
This season he was injured his knee in the first game of the season in a 51-13 win over Duquesne.
“It was a freak kind of deal. It was toward the end of the game and one of the opposing team players tossed one of our players (on a pile) kind of late,” Weir said.
But a bye week following a 51-10 win over Drake gave Weir some more time to recover and he eventually returned to the starting lineup.
“Tyler has done a great job,” said Jason Eck, the offensive line coach for SDSU. “He was a backup last year and he rotated in a few games. This year he really worked hard in the off-season.
“He was probably our most improved offensive lineman.”
“He started the first game then had knee surgery,” Eck added. “He showed a lot of toughness. He played in the conference opener against Youngstown State and he played well in that game.”
Eck said that Weir is usually the first offensive lineman to push away defenders after SDSU junior quarterback Taryn Christion has been hit to the ground.
“He brings a little bit of an edge,” Eck said of Weir.
Weir has played different spots on the offensive line for the Jackrabbits, who gained 366 total yards against a JMU defense that led the nation in least points allowed during regular-season play.
“They are a very well coached football team from front to back,” Weir said of JMU. “Obviously (defensive lineman) Andrew Ankrah is a first-team All-American. Their line really knows how to fly around. They are really well coached.”
Weir can identify with SDSU senior running back Brady Mengarelli, who was also lightly recruited coming out of high school in Arizona. Earlier in his college career Mengarelli played behind former South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner, who has been with the Detroit Lions of the NFL since 2015.
“I was recruited as a guard and spent the first two seasons as the backup center,” Weir said. “Last year I moved out to right tackle and that is where I have been. Really the biggest challenge is definitely technique. Out on the edge you spend more time on pass protection. You are going against a lot quicker guys.”
Weir attracted few Division I offers, getting attention from some Division II programs in Colorado and a walk-on offer from Colorado State.
So why did he head to Brookings, South Dakota?
“Just a really good program overall,” Weir said of SDSU.
Weir enjoys the FCS playoff tournament setup.
“It really shows who the best team in the country is,” he said of the FSC system.
But it will be JMU and not SDSU who will have that chance now.
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