Missouri State football misses opportunity to grab Springfield in loss to No. 2 South Dakota State – News-Leader

  • September 25, 2022

On a day the Bears could have made more history than an already-significant matchup presented, Missouri State couldn’t seize the moment and fell flat in a disappointing performance.
Missouri State (2-2, 0-1) lost 28-14 against No. 2 South Dakota State (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday afternoon at Plaster Stadium.
The Bears had an opportunity to grab Springfield with one of its biggest wins in school history.
These moments don’t present themselves often.
The day began with the Bears ranked No. 4 in the FCS Coaches Poll and hosting their first top-five matchup in Springfield’s history. A Family Weekend crowd was said to be, going into the game, one of the city’s largest and the Bears had an opportunity to showcase their national arrival in front of everyone.
Instead, the Bears came out flat and the crowd was quiet. A somewhat disappointing 13,189 in attendance didn’t see much of a reason to return when it’s been so difficult for athletics programs across the country to hold on and fill stadiums.
More:Missouri State football flat in high-stakes loss to No. 2 South Dakota State
If it wasn’t the performance on the field, it might have been by the long concession stand lines or a scoreboard that rarely worked (it will be replaced next year, thank goodness). Maybe the reason is the same lame soundtrack that has blared over the speakers across many years or a student section that never wants to sit in the sun on a hot afternoon.
But any way you put it, the play on the field didn’t help.
“South Dakota State was the better team today,” Bears head coach Bobby Petrino said. “They played well for four quarters and we didn’t execute on defense for four quarters. You can’t have that against a team like that.”
Make no mistake — Petrino, in his third year as the Bears’ head coach, has rejuvenated a fanbase that was almost non-existent and is the reason it’s grown into a team some consider to be an FCS championship contender. His teams have been incredibly entertaining to watch and one that can compete at the highest of levels.
It just didn’t on Saturday.
South Dakota State outgained the Bears 251-36 in the first half which sent some fans to the exits. Lucky to be keeping the game close, the Bears eventually tied the game at 14 in the third quarter.
The Jackrabbits, however, have been in these types of games countless times before and it showed.
On Saturday, SDSU quarterback Mark Gronowski was the better quarterback on the field while completing 22-of-29 passes for 319 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He finally looked like the 2021 spring season’s Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and he had time to throw along with a ground game to compliment him. The Jacks ran for 156 yards on 37 carries.
On the other side, the Bears’ reigning MVFC Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback, had some struggles. Jason Shelley finished 19-of-29 for 185 yards, a touchdown and his first two interceptions of the season. He was constantly pressured by one of the best FCS defenses in the country but he couldn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat, as he’s shown the capability of doing many times before.
The Bears also rushed for just 73 yards on 23 carries after just having four total yards on the ground in the first half. The offensive line, which has been the focus by many to be the weakest unit on the Bears, gave up four sacks and rarely gave their quarterback time.
“Really, what SDSU did was pressure (Shelley),” Petrino said. “We weren’t able to get the ball moved around the field much. I think it was an offensive line thing and that’s why we moved the quarterback more in the third quarter while running naked boots or more sprint-out stuff which helped us. But you can only do that so much. You gotta be able to line up and block them.”
Not all is doom and gloom for the Bears. The loss to the Jackrabbits won’t define their season, although a win could have taken the level of the program’s perception, locally, to a level it’s never has been.
Missouri State is still in a great position to make the postseason with its two non-conference wins to start the year. A loss to FBS Arkansas was expected and a win over a program the Bears have only beaten once in their history was always up in the air.
The path forward is difficult when the Bears visit a difficult North Dakota squad next week. It will be followed by a home game against Southern Illinois when the Salukis appear to be heading in the right direction after two eyebrow-raising losses to start the year. The Bears are very capable of winning both.
There is plenty that will have to improve before the Bears can beat a team of the caliber of South Dakota State. They will have to show that growth in the weeks ahead while trying to build toward their third-straight postseason appearance.
“We know, in this conference, that we have to come and play every week,” Petrino said. “All of our goals are still out there. The main thing that’s the most important is what we do now going forward and getting ready. Anytime you lose a game like this, it challenges your togetherness as a team. We need our leadership to stay together and our team to stay together and stay on the practice field and get better.” 
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at [email protected] or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.