At times during the University of South Dakota's 37-14 season-ending loss to South Dakota State last Saturday, you could sense the hope starting to slip away for the team dressed in white, red and chrome.
Having missed opportunities to score from inside the State 10-yard line on two separate drives in the second quarter, and having witnessed the Jacks' offense do literally whatever they wanted to for thirty minutes (SDSU punter Ethan Sawyer was a spectator for the opening 27:32), the disgust on the Yotes' sideline with how their season finale was playing out wasn't hard to read. Frustration boiled over for some - the ejection of Sean Bredl comes to mind - while for others, the urge to change the game in one play led to missed assignments and throws into windows that didn't exist.
Hopelessly trailing 31-0 at the half on a bitterly cold November afternoon, few would've blamed the U for mailing in the game's final two quarters and quickly turning the page on the depressing chapter that's been the 2014 Coyote football season.
But that's not how a Joe Glenn-coached team does things.
The message from Glenn at the interval was to keep fighting - or start fighting, in some cases - and to win the second half. And while it might not mean much to those on the outside of the program, the fact that both of those objectives were accomplished meant a great deal to those who make up USD football.
While both Coyote touchdowns were scored mainly against second-team opposition, the lasting images of Drew Potter rumbling through the Jacks' secondary and Eric Shufford and Riley Donovan catching everything thrown their way left those in red present in Brookings with a better feeling exiting the stadium than they could've imagined given the final outcome. And even though the likes of Sumner, Schneider, Zenner and Weineke played only for a series or two after halftime, the fact that the Coyote defense prevented anyone in yellow from crossing the goaline for the final thirty minutes of their season was a testament to their will to finish both the game and the season well.
In the end, the lopsided final score of the game and the team's 2-10 record might be all that matter to some. It's likely that those of that mind will be the loudest to call for changes to the program, and depending on the level of frustration, that cry might be for a shift in scheme or a switch in personnel, coaches, players...or all of the above.
But in my opinion, anyone who watched this team on a regular basis this season has no reason to see things that way. While there's no denying that this year wasn't a success on the scoresheet and in the record book, there's also no way to overlook the team's spirit and determination, the way they played the game the right way even in defeat, and how they were decimated weekly by major injuries and yet stayed competitive in the toughest FCS conference in the nation.
No, the record doesn't look good, and no, the final score Saturday doesn't exactly shine, either.
But to Coach Glenn and to those who truly support the Coyotes, the fight displayed by this team couldn't look better.
For more on the Coyotes' end to their season as well as a look towards USD's football future, watch Jay Elsen and I in our latest video blog below: