By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Minnesota State’s rush defense is ranked second in Division II, allowing only 74.0 yards per game, but Missouri Western State had Michael Hill, a Harlan Hill finalist who had rushed for more than 2,000 yards this season.
Something had to give, and it was the Griffons’ run game.
“Games work out in different ways, but our defense was tremendous today,” Mavericks coach Aaron Keen said. “The defense really shut down the run.”
Missouri Western State was averaging 195.7 yards rushing and 43.2 points. In two playoff games, the Griffons had scored 98 points, and it looked like Missouri Western State would do the same Saturday.
The Griffons’ first possession was an 11-play drive that moved 52 yards, with a good mix of run and pass. Hill had 27 yards on his first three carries that set up a field goal. However, after that drive, the Griffons gained only 191 yards with just 20 minutes of possession as the Mavericks made some adjustments.
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t prepare for all week,” safety Earl Brooks said. “It was an awesome job of tackling.”
Linebacker Kris Fliegle led the defense with nine tackles and one sack, and Brooks made eight tackles with a clinching interception late in the game.
The defense allowed only 243 yards of offense, with Hill rushing 15 times for 50 yards, only the second game this season in which he’d been held below 115 yards. He still could be named Division II’s best player, but the Mavericks held him in check for the final three quarters.
“Our goal is always to shut down the run and make (the opponent) one-dimensional,” Keen said. “We had a great challenge this week.”
Brooks, Justin Otto and Nathan Hancock each had an interception, giving the Mavericks seven picks in the last two games. Otto’s interception came on a first-down play at the Mavericks’ 11 late in the third quarter.
“Our defense doesn’t let up in the red zone,” Brooks said.
Missouri Western State converted just 3 of 10 on third down and had only six offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
“The defense gave us a shot to win today,” Keen said.