MANKATO — The hallmark of Minnesota State's football team the last two seasons has been running the ball and stopping the run.
If they do both, the Mavericks win. On Saturday, the Mavericks rushed for 447 yards and allowed only 61 yards rushing, defeating Northern State 42-14 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game before a homecoming crowd of 5,107 fans at Blakeslee Stadium.
"It's our recipe for success," Minnesota State coach Aaron Keen said. "If we can run the ball and make the other team one-dimensional, we're a pretty good football team. That was certainly the case today."
Last season, the Mavericks averaged 235.7 yards rushing, and seven times, there was a 100-yard rusher. Through the first three games this season, Minnesota State was averaging 202.7 yards rushing, with more than half of that coming against winless Minnesota Crookston, and there had yet to be a 100-yard rusher.
On Saturday, quarterback Jon Wolf rushed for 107 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and backup Chad Zastrow rushed for 102 yards that included a 52-yard score in the fourth quarter. Tailbacks Connor Thomas and Andy Pfeiffer had 79 and 75 yards rushing, respectively.
"We knew we had to step up our run game," Wolf said. "Some teams that (Northern State) had played were able to run the ball. We found their weakness and exploited it."
Wolf also scored on a 31-yard run in the second quarter, reading the option as the defense ran after the tailback, but despite a lopsided half, the Mavericks led just 14-0 at the break.
"We made a lot of mistakes offensively, and we had to clean some things up at halftime," Keen said. "If we do things right, we have a pretty productive first half. When we started executing better, we had a heckuva third quarter."
The Mavericks started the second half with Justin Otto's interception, and seven plays later, Thomas scored on a 7-yard run. After a three-and-out, Wolf threw a 53-yard pass to Dennis Carter and a 7-yard pass to Jeff Burns for another touchdown.
The defense held again, and the offense converted with a six-play drive that ended with Mitch Brozovich's 1-yard run. The three-touchdown blitz in about 10 minutes made it 35-0.
"The first half, we played OK and moved the ball, but we had some penalties and mistakes that hurt us," Wolf said. "Everybody picked it up after that."
Zastrow's 52-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter made it 42-0, and Northern State tacked on two late scores against the Minnesota State reserves.
Minnesota State had 607 yards of offense and had a 5 1/2-minute advantage in possession time. The defense, which was nationally ranked last season against the run but had been allowing 92.7 yards this season, held Northern State to 295 yards of offense, with 61 yards rushing. There were also interceptions by Otto and Patrick Schmidt, and a couple others just missed pickoffs.
"Our goals is always to stop the run and make them one-dimensional," said senior linebacker Isaac Kolstad, who made a team-high nine tackles. "We started the game kind of slow, but we really started to pick it up."
The Mavericks (4-0) open South Division play on the road Saturday at Concordia-St. Paul. Keen said it was a good first one-third of the season, and coming off the emotional victory last week at Minnesota Duluth, he's happy with how his team responded.
"We talked all week about how that was a big win at Duluth, but it didn't mean anything if we didn't play well today and build on that," Keen said. "We played a great third quarter today, but we have to put four quarters together if we want to get back to that championship level."