Talking Augie-USF on Sports Web Live

This week’s Sports Web Live will take place Wednesday (Oct. 23) at 1 p.m. with a special preview of Saturday’s Augustana-USF football game.

Matt Zimmer and I will be joined by former Vikings receiver Tyler Schulte and former Cougars quarterback Taylor Perkins to discuss the city rivalry and what lies ahead for the NSIC schools.

Viewers can go to argusleader.com at 1 p.m. to ask questions or share comments.

To get you started, here’s my column from last year’s thrilling revival of the rivalry…

An open letter to former Argus Leader sports editor John Egan, who retired after a 35-year newspaper career in 1990 and now lives in Arizona:

Dear John,

You wouldn’t have believed the scene on Saturday in Sioux Falls, where fall and football came together to produce a day too full to forget.

With Augustana and the University of Sioux Falls unveiling an instant classic and USD hosting North Dakota State at Howard Wood Field, even the late October winds had the good sense to stay away.

The mood was certainly magical for USF, which was known as Sioux Falls College the last time it clashed with Augustana back in 1986 at Howard Wood Field.

Do you remember covering that game, when the Vikings won 20-0 in the sort of low-key setting one might expect when an NCAA Division II school faces a lesser NAIA foe?

That 1986 win was the 18th straight for the Vikings against the forgettable Baptist school down the road, and then-Augie coach Jim Heinitz didn’t sound eager to renew the series anytime soon.

"The future may be a couple years away," he told you, and it turned out to be more than a quarter-century.

On Saturday, though, after years of uneasy alliance and occasional indifference, the series resumed. And things have changed just a bit.

Believe it or not, John, “the Coo” is Division II and in the same league as Augustana. Not the North Central Conference, mind you, but the Northern Sun (more on that later).

USF carried a 6-1 record into Kirkeby-Over Stadium, a beautiful campus facility Augie built in 2009 after a $6.1 million donation from the family of its longtime equipment manager (you remember Bob Hall, that old ray of sunshine?)

So the hours leading up to Saturday’s much-awaited game became a visceral (and visual) experience, with purple-clad USF folks strolling down Lake Avenue, from one campus to another, with beverages in hand and victory in mind.

When game time arrived, the scene was surreal, with the teams gathered in their respective tunnels, ready to explode, and injured Augustana fullback Phil Uecker waving a broadsword to fire up the faithful.

The stadium-record crowd of 7,120 spilled onto grassy berms and walkways, and a few bargain-seekers stood on sidewalks outside the facility to watch history unfold.

"Coming out of the tunnel, the kids are hyped, the crowd’s getting into it, the music’s going and it’s sort of like, ‘Hey, this thing’s really going to happen,’ " USF coach Jed Stugart said.

"Even though we say it’s just another game, this was not just another game. This was what college football is supposed to look like. A lot of these guys would have loved to play Division I football, and this was probably as close as they’ll get."

The emotional significance of the game was reflected in the quality of action, with both teams making big plays down the stretch to keep their hopes alive.

Trailing 25-18, Augie quarterback Josh Hanson willed his team down the field in the final moments of regulation, hitting Roosevelt alum Isaac Jorgensen in the end zone with 30 seconds left to force overtime.

The Vikings had a chance to win after intercepting USF quarterback Taylor Perkins off a deflection at the 1-yard line on the first possession of overtime. But embattled kicker Drew Behrens (with his replacement, Ben Albrecht, sidelined by an earlier injury) saw his 40-yard field goal attempt blocked.

Behrens then had an extra point blocked in the second extra session, and Perkins’ scoring strike to Carrington Hanna (plus the PAT from Sioux Falls Christian product Braden Wieking) sent USF players and fans pouring onto the field to punctuate their purple reign.

The 32-31 final score moved the Cougars to 7-1 and kept their playoff hopes alive, while the sinking Vikings fell to 3-5 with their most disappointing loss of all.

"The atmosphere was unbelievable, and we knew it was going to be," said Hanson, looking slightly battered but showing class in defeat. "It was a great game, but I don’t think there’s any consolation with this one. We came up short, and it hurts."

As the Cougars posed on the Kirkeby-Over turf with the “Key to the City” trophy (you have to know our current mayor to understand that one), it was clear that a new world order had arrived.

For years, as you know, the folks at Augustana had acted superior to USF for a very simple reason: they were superior to USF. In many ways, including academically, they still are.

But football has its own rules, and former USF quarterback Kurtiss Riggs recalls thinking back in 1996 – when he led the Cougars to their first NAIA national title – that it would be fun to take a crack at that larger-level Lutheran school a few blocks away.

"I’m sure I would have thrown for eight touchdowns," joked Riggs, who later served as quarterbacks coach at USF, which won four NAIA national titles under Bob Young and Kalen DeBoer.

"I remember joking around with (former Augie standout) Shannon Poppinga, and we would always say the other side wouldn’t have had a chance," added Riggs. "I think both sides are excited about the fact that’s it actually happening. We’ve moved past the talking stage."

When the Division I era in the Dakotas began in 2004 and the NCC eventually died, Augie stayed at the Division II level and joined the Northern Sun, meaning its rivalries with SDSU and USD disappeared.

I believe the Vikings made the right decision to stay at their current level, John, but it’s harder to feel superior in your city when those big-time playmates are gone.

So here came USF, grudgingly accepted into the Division II and Northern Sun ranks, with a new coach in Jed Stugart and a still-developing athletic facility on the outer edge of town.

The only thing left was to outduel the Vikings on the football field, and for those who came before Perkins and Hanna and Wieking and the rest of the triumphant Cougars, Saturday’s outcome was monumental.

"Seeing the guys who played at this school before us and the look in their eyes and how much they wanted this, it really pushed us along," said Perkins, who threw for 238 yards.

Added Wieking: “We got so many texts and messages from those older guys. They said they would have given up their national championship rings just for the chance to play in this game.”

Of course, the new order of things was also felt across town at Howard Wood Field, where the Coyotes chose to host NDSU rather than playing at the DakotaDome.

Yes, we’re talking about that Howard Wood Field. You had recently started at the Argus when the stadium was constructed in 1957, but now it’s got FieldTurf, refurbished grandstands, a video scoreboard and (you’d really love this part) a new multi-level press box.

All of this allowed it to host a Football Championship Subdivision contest between USD and the defending national champion Bison, who pounded the hapless Coyotes 54-0.

NDSU was the first of the Dakota-based NCC schools to get serious about Division I (followed closely by SDSU), and the Bison remain the standard-bearer.

The Coyotes, in conjunction with the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, thought Saturday’s game might be a good way to get more red-blooded exposure in the state’s largest city.

But all the lopsided margin did was reinforce the Bison’s stature in the region.

Green-and-gold buses, flags and finery were all over the parking lot as Bison fans staked out their turf. Once inside, they took up 90 percent of the visitor’s grandstand and a large chunk of the total attendance of 9,269. And they got the blowout they wanted.

You might recall Joe Glenn as the former Coyote player who went on to coach at Northern Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, but he’s back in Vermillion and suffering through a rough first season.

USD fell to 1-6 with Saturday’s loss, and you know times are tough when a streaker at Howard Wood becomes more notable than anything your team did on the field.

It’s good to be optimistic, John, and it’s quite possible that Glenn and his staff will get things turned around and change the balance of power in the Dakotas, just as USF accomplished in the city of Sioux Falls.

But on Saturday night, as fans filed out and the hastily planned Howard Wood experiment was over, NDSU looked like a Division I program that had just strengthened its South Dakota recruiting base, while the Coyotes licked their wounds.

As any sports editor knows, John, sometimes progress comes in bunches, and sometimes it just sort of trickles along.