By Chad Courrier
---- — MANKATO — Minnesota State has a veteran, powerful offensive line, and there's been plenty of hype about that front five.
But in the season-opener against Mary, the run game didn't take off as expected. So on Saturday, in the home opener against Minnesota Crookston, there was a special focus on that unit.
"We felt like we could pound the rock against anybody," senior guard Andrew Essman said. "We struggled somewhat (against Mary), and we feel like we could have done better.
"Tonight, it felt like we were right at home. We were moving guys off the ball. When we get that going, no one can stop us."
No. 2-rated Minnesota State overpowered Minnesota Crookston with 532 yards of offense, winning 68-26 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football game Saturday night at Blakeslee Stadium. It's the second-highest point total in program history, just two points shy of victories over Peru State (2007) and Upper Iowa (2012). it's the fifth-highest combined score of any Minnesota State game.
The Mavericks didn't attempt a punt and faced only six third-down plays, converting five. Minnesota State ran only one fourth-down play, and that was a 32-yard field goal by Sam Brockshus in the fourth quarter. The Minnesota State quarterbacks were 10 of 11 passing, with starter Jon Wolf completing all 7 attempts for 140 yards.
"Our goal was to get better as individuals and get better as a team this week," coach Aaron Keen said. "We felt there were some areas of concern in Week 1. The younger guys will learn a lot from this, and it's great that we got everyone in to play a varsity game."
The offensive fireworks started early, with Minnesota State taking four rushes to move 70 yards and scoring on Connor Thomas' 8-yard run. Brockshus kicked the first of nine PATs.
The defense stopped the next possession, and defensive back Eric Clark made an interception and returned it 58 yards for a 14-0 lead.
"When you make an interception or recover a fumble, that's icing on the cake," defensive back Sam Thompson said. "It's even better when you can house one."
The Mavericks scored 37 points in the second quarter, with Dennis Carter catching touchdown passes of 29 and 21 yards. Thomas had his second touchdown run, and Mitch Brozovich and Austin Rieder each scored touchdowns as the Mavericks went up 51-12 at halftime.
"We felt like we needed to clean some things up from last week," Keen said. "I'm happy with our improvement."
Reserves dominated the final half. Freshman running back Chad Zastrow ended up as the leading rusher with 84 yards, and Anthony Lewis rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown as the Mavericks totalled 327 yards rushing.
Thompson ended up with six tackles, and Nathan Hancock, Evan Koehler, Diontae Jones, Isaac Kolstad, Shonquille Dorsey and Josh Gordon all made five. Gordon had 1.5 sacks.
"You should show improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, and we should show more improvement from Week 2 to Week 3," Thompson said.
Minnesota State (2-0) plays its toughest game to date at Minnesota Duluth at 6 p.m. Saturday. Even though its only Week 3, the winner will have a big advantage in winning a Northern Sun championship and an edge in possible postseason seeding.
"We seem to play our best in the big games," Essman said. "We look forward to the challenge."