Houston Baptist pulls off its biggest FCS win at South Dakota

Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe has helped his team to a 2-1 start this season. Juan DeLeon Studio photo

FARGO — Looking back on it, Vic Shealy admits he didn’t know what he was getting into when he accepted a job in which he was asked to start a college football program from scratch.

On April 9, 2012, Shealy was named the first head football coach at Houston Baptist University. The wins have been scarce since the school’s first season in 2014. But none was bigger than last Saturday’s 53-52 shootout victory at the University of South Dakota — a North Dakota State opponent in the Missouri Valley Football Conference that won an Division I FCS playoff game two years ago.

The victory ended Houston Baptist’s 19-game losing streak to opponents at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

“I’m not sure any coach reaches back and says ‘I want to start a football program,’” said Shealy, who had assistant coaching positions at Kansas, Richmond, UNLV, Air Force, Austin Peay and Mars Hill College. He also won an NAIA national championship as the head coach at Azusa Pacific.

“I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into,” Shealy said. “Just seeing our kids finish a game like we did at South Dakota, that was a real sign of growth for our program. We weren’t able to do that the last couple of years.”


Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe has helped his team to a 2-1 start this season. Juan DeLeon Studio photo

As expected, Shealy’s new program started slowly with back-to-back 2-9 seasons. Competing in the Southland Conference, Houston Baptist produced a 4-7 record in 2016 before taking a step backwards with back-to-back 1-10 seasons.

Junior quarterback Bailey Zappe, who engineered the game-winning drive at South Dakota, was the starter during those 1-10 seasons. Now, he has Houston Baptist off to a 2-1 start as it enters conference play in a league that includes the likes of Sam Houston State, Nicholls State, McNeese State and Stephen F. Austin.

“These three years have been a roller coaster ride,” said Zappe, who grew up in Victoria, Texas, located about 1½ hours south of Houston. “It was my first win against an FCS team. It felt great getting over that hump.”

Zappe is the driving force for Houston Baptist’s high-flying offense. He threw for 1,548 yards his freshman year and 2,812 yards his sophomore year. So far this season in three games, he has thrown for 1,062 yards.

Nearly half those yards came against South Dakota, where he completed 41 of 53 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns. He set a school record for completions in one game.

In the game-winning, nine-play, 70-yard drive, Zappe completed all five of his passes. Junior running back Dreshawn Minnieweather lined up in the wildcat formation and ran in for a one-yard touchdown that cut the Coyote lead to 52-51 with 1 minute, 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.


“I thought we would be cautious and kick the extra point,” Zappe said. “But once coach said we were going for two, I said ‘Let’s do it. We didn’t come all the way up to South Dakota to go into overtime.’”

On a play Shealy had in his mind long before Houston Baptist scored, junior wide receiver Ben Ratzlaff took a handoff on a reverse and lobbed a pass to a wide-open Coleman Robinson for the two-point conversion that secured the victory.

“It’s not necessarily a trick play per se,” Shealy said. “All it comes down to is the execution.”

“Once Coleman caught that pass, I got the chills,” Zappe said. “It was unbelievable.”

So was the passing yardage in this game. While Zappe had a record-setting day, South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons completed 48 of 65 passes for 537 yards and four touchdowns.

“As much as I would have liked to have seen our defense hold them to 21 points, realistically I knew that probably wasn’t going to happen,” Shealy said. “We had tremendous respect for Austin Simmons. We felt he was as athletic and proficient as any quarterback we have seen in our league over the years.”

And so was Houston Baptist’s offense, which produced a 58-13 win over NAIA Texas Wesleyan earlier this season and nearly pulled off an upset over FBS opponent Texas-El Paso in a 36-34 loss. Now Shealy is hoping his offense can win some games in the Southland Conference, a league he says is as balanced as it has been in his six years at Houston Baptist.

“Our offense is all about rhythm,” Shealy said. “Once you get it cooking, it’s hard to stop.”


Something South Dakota discovered last Saturday.

Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) passed for more than 500 yards in a victory at the University of South Dakota last weekend. Russ Reneau / HBU Athletics

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