By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
The Minnesota State football team clinched a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference overall and South Division titles Saturday afternoon with a dominating 27-13 win over the University of Sioux Falls.
The game was played before a crowd of 4,041 at Blakeslee Stadium. It was the 10th straight win for the No. 6-ranked Mavericks, joining the 2009 squad as the only other team to begin a season 10-0.
Junior quarterback Jon Wolf passed for 200 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 42 yards and a score. Minnesota State built a 20-3 halftime lead and was never threatened as the Mavericks’ defense limited a potent Sioux Falls attack to 246 total yards.
“I think our guys relish the opportunity to play in these big games,” Minnesota State interim head coach Aaron Keen said. “We talked a lot about swinging for the fences and there was no hesitation on our part.
“I thought our zone read game was effective in getting Jon to the perimeter as they collapsed down on the back. Those were very crucial yards for us, and we’re going to find a way to grind it out when we need those one or two yards in the fourth quarter.”
Minnesota State, which generated 314 total yards, relied on three huge plays to first break things open and then finish things off. The Mavericks longest play from scrimmage of the season — a
67-yard aerial from Wolf to freshman wide receiver Kyle Riggott on the game’s first possession — set up Wolf’s 2-yard TD run on an option around left end.
After the Cougars cut the deficit to 7-3 on Brandon Wieking’s 20-yard field goal late in the first quarter, Minnesota State answered with an eight-minute drive that covered 65 yards in 16 plays and ended on Sam Brockshus 44-yard field goal.
Chris Schaudt, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound junior defensive end, then stepped in front of a Taylor Perkins pass over the middle and, after bobbling it, grabbed it and weaved through traffic for a 40-yard return to the Cougars’ 6-yard line. Freshman running back Connor Thomas, who ended up with 45 yards on 11 carries, bounced outside on the next play and dove inside the pylon for a 17-3 Mavericks’ lead with 6:36 left in the half.
“One of our objectives this week was spying on the quarterback and looking for that short underneath route they run,” said Schaudt, who also had three sacks. “I saw the ball coming right to me, and I can’t believe I didn’t catch it clean.
“We wanted pressure out of our front four and then let the back seven play their game. We were able to play fast and furious on the ends because our interior guys got good penetration.”
A deflected punt by the Mavericks’ Kenyon Rudd resulted in a 20-yard boot late in the half and Brockshus nailed a 22-yarder in the waning seconds.
Minnesota State pretty much sealed the victory over the Cougars (8-2) in the early stages of the fourth quarter when Keen rolled the dice on a fourth-and-one play from the Sioux Falls’ 40-yard line. Wolf faked an inside handoff and lobbed a ball over the middle that senior wide receiver Adam Thielen wrestled away from a defender near the 20 and raced in untouched.
“We knew they were going to pack the box because we saw that on film in short yardage situations,” Wolf said. “We had Adam manned up on the outside with no help over the top.
“I went through my play action and saw the guy trailing him. I just put it up there and he came down with a nice grab.”
Keen said that was a pivotal play and he felt like it was part of the swing-for-the-fences philosophy.
“That one kind of stuck in my mind,” he said. “We had a chance to punt it and try and pin them down deep or possibly run the ball by attacking with the option play. I looked down my play-call sheet during the timeout and that’s one of my favorite plays in football.”
Sioux Falls ruined the Mavericks’ stellar defensive effort a bit when a botched snap on a punt enabled the Cougars to go 11 yards and score on Perkins’ 1-yard run with 35 seconds remaining. Perkins ended up 22 of 37 for 203 yards with tight end Austin VanHove catching seven balls for 52 yards.
Andy Pfeiffer led the Mavericks with 55 yards in 11 carries while Thielen totaled five catches for 93 yards. MSU’s sophomore linebacker Kris Fleigle was in on a team-best nine tackles. The Mavericks also received 1 1/2 sacks from Kaleb Wendricks and seven stops from Jordan Hale.
Minnesota State looks to close out an undefeated regular season Saturday when it hosts Upper Iowa.