By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Minnesota State’s game plan was working early.
In the first quarter, the Mavericks had the ball for 22 of 29 plays, rolling up 118 yards and holding the football for 11:13 of the 15 minutes.
But that only resulted in a 3-0 lead. Once the Valdosta State offense got going, it was clear that the Mavericks needed to get more out of the early action.
“That’s a good football team we played today,” Minnesota State coach Aaron Keen said. “They came into a hostile environment and got it done.”
Valdosta State totaled 498 yards, the most by a Minnesota State opponent this season, and defeated the Mavericks 35-19 in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II football playoffs Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium. The Blazers (11-2) racked up nearly all of that offense in the final three quarters to end the Mavericks’ most successful season.
“They had play-making ability,” Minnesota State linebacker Marcus Hall-Oliver said. “They were good up front, and they did a good job of executing.”
The Mavericks (13-1) boosted their early lead to 10-0 on a 17-yard pass from Jon Wolf to Adam Thielen, but the Blazers controlled most of the play in the second quarter, putting together scoring drives of 10 and 13 plays. Quarterback Cayden Cochran capped off both drives by throwing short touchdown passes.
“We knew they were going to try to stop the run like they do every week,” Cochran said. “I knew I was going to have to throw the ball. Our offensive line did a great job, and the receivers played well. I just had to get the ball in their hands.
Cochran’s 5-yard run pushed the lead to 21-10 early in the third quarter, but the Mavericks’ answered with Sam Brockshus’ second field goal, staying within one score.
Cochran’s second short touchdown run pushed the lead to 28-13, but the Mavericks answered with a 75-yard drive that ended with Andy Pfeiffer’s 1-yard run. However, the PAT was missed, leaving a nine-point deficit.
Minnesota State had a chance to get closer but missed a field goal, allowing Valdosta State to tack on a late touchdown and advance to the national championship game Saturday.
“I felt like we had some opportunities, and we’ve been pretty good at getting points in the red zone,” Keen said. “They did a good job of shutting us down. We needed to get better at converting those opportunities into touchdowns.”
Minnesota State was 4 of 5 in the red zone, but two of those ended up with field goals. Valdosta State was 4 of 4, all touchdowns.
The Blazers totaled 220 yards rushing, which was also a season-high by a Minnesota State opponent.
Wolf ended up with 322 yards of offense, rushing for 127 and completing 11 of 24 passes for 195 yards.
“They made some adjustments (after the first quarter), and I made some bad reads,” Wolf said. “I needed to give the running backs a chance to run.”
Thielen ended up with 128 yards on six receptions, ending his Minnesota State career as a top-10 receiver.
“It was great to get to this point, but that’s not the way we wanted the season to end,” he said. “I’m excited to see how all the young guys on this team come back.”
Safety Nathan Hancock had a team-high nine tackles, and he blocked a punt. Isaac Kolstad, Chris Schaudt and Kris Fliegle each made six tackles, and Schaudt had the only sack. Those players all return next season.
“We need to give it everything we have in the offseason,” Wolf said. “We’re not losing a lot of guys, but it’s not easy to replace those seniors.”