For the first time this season, the Pierre Governors were tested in all phases when they faced Yankton during Friday’s homecoming game.
It took overcoming some first-quarter struggles, offensively, but the Govs ended up passing the test with flying colors.
Pierre defeated its rival handily, 55-10, the most points the Bucks have allowed all season.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re really proud of,” Govs head coach Steve Steele said. “We were expecting a really good game, we got a really good game (from Yankton). And then we just continued to play really, really well.”
Late in the first quarter, the Govs nearly allowed something that hasn’t happened all season — failing to score first.
After a first-and-goal by Yankton, the Bucks came away with zero points after multiple penalties and were forced to punt it back to Pierre.
A few plays later, senior quarterback Lincoln Kienholz stiff-armed a Yankton defender and took the designed run play 62 yards to the house.
The Govs led 7-0 as the first quarter came to a close.
“We found ways to take those punches and to continue to move forward and troubleshoot and problem-solving and find our way into the endzone and to continue to have our defense step up while we were figuring that out offensively,” Steele said. “It was just a fun thing to see.”
Steele added that his team’s struggles early on were because Yankton’s defense made it difficult for Pierre to find a rhythm offensively.
“Realistically, they did a great job getting us out of our game to this point in the year,” he said. “And we were just thankful that we had a good backup plan and that the guys did a really good job running the football.”
Despite being known as an elite passer, Kienholz showed his wheels aren’t bad either. He ran the ball 19 times for 193 yards and two touchdowns, and the star quarterback enjoyed every moment of it.
For good measure, Kienholz also added four scores through the air and grabbed an interception as a defensive back.
“I think the best part is when you’re lined up and you run that sweep play, see everyone going this way, and you find that perfect told to just pass through,” he said. “I don’t think it’s gonna be better than that.”
Kienholz credited his success on the ground to his offensive line, tight ends and receivers opening big lanes for him to run through.
Junior running back Brock Moser benefited from this as well. He finished with 131 yards rushing on eight carries, including this 48-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter.
“Just trying to get to the hole and hit it as hard as I can and try and make people miss,” Moser said of his running style as a smaller tailback at 5-foot-7 and 165 lbs. “I’m a pretty small target.”
Following his touchdown that put Pierre up 41-10, Moser jogged back to the sideline, where he was then lifted up by assistant coach Nathan Naasz.
“He’s always done it ever since I was playing as a freshman,” Moser said. “Anytime someone would score, he’d go pick them up, and it’d just be his thing.”
For the Govs, there was plenty of reason to celebrate, especially on defense.
Coming into Friday’s matchup, the Bucks had scored an average of 41 points a game. That number may drop a bit after Pierre held Yankton’s potent offense to only 10 points and one touchdown.
The Govs (4-0) also tallied eight sacks and three interceptions.
Steele said his defense prepared extremely well and knew what the Bucks (3-1) were trying to do offensively.
“The other thing that we didn’t do is we didn’t really give up a big play,” he said. “Even when we did concede some catches and stuff, it wasn’t ever the big catch or the big run. They might have gotten the first down, but the guys did a really good job of sticking with it and then finding ways to get off (the field) without points.”
He also spoke highly of senior linebacker Chase Carda, who finished with six tackles and led Pierre with three sacks in his first action.
Even with the lopsided result, the Govs showed they can bounce back when adversity strikes.
“It’s huge, especially at homecoming, a bunch of fans, and we just put 50 on them. And they’re the No. 3 seed,” Kienholz said. “So that’s just huge for us. It’s a huge momentum builder up until these next couple of weeks...”
Up next, Pierre travels to Watertown (1-2) on Friday for an away game at Watertown Football Stadium at 7 p.m.
But, according to Steele, the Govs need to hone in on its focus and discipline before then.
Pierre committed a number of uncharacteristic penalties against Yankton that could come back to bite them later in the season if they don’t fix those mistakes.
“When we get into those emotional games like that or big moments, we can’t get caught up in all that,” Steele said. “A lot of those penalties in the first quarter, both ways, were just emotional penalties. Where you lose your focus, you lose your discipline. And we just can’t have those.”