MARSHALL — During the summer, Nate Gunn did an internship, and while he gained some valuable experience, he also got a glimpse into his future, which may or may not include football.
“I realized how much it means to me to be out here, playing with the guys,” the Minnesota State senior running back said. “I’m never going to hate on a win, but we have to get better. Everyone on our team knows that.”
Playing behind a veteran offensive line, Gunn rushed 31 times for 242 yards and three touchdowns, leading Minnesota State to a 38-23 victory over Southwest Minnesota State in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football game Saturday.
Gunn has 20 100-yard performances in his 26 games at Minnesota State, and this was his third 200-yard game, trailing only his 261 yards vs. Tarleton State in the snowy playoff game last season at Blakeslee Stadium.
“Nate is a guy we can lean on,” Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. “He had a great summer, and it showed on the field tonight. When he got in the open, he showed good speed. We played eight guys on the offensive line, and they did a great job.”
After Minnesota State gave Southwest a field goal, following a high snap on a punt, Gunn started to find some traction. He rushed four times in a nine-play drive, capping the possession with a 15-yard run, deftly reversing field and picking up a key block from quarterback J.D. Ekowa. The two-point conversion made it 8-3 midway through the first quarter.
In the next possession, Gunn carried on six of the eight plays, scoring untouched on a 2-yard run up the middle. Ashton Garner’s PAT made it 15-3.
Luke Williams hit a 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and Gunn scored his third touchdown from the 2-yard line. By halftime, Gunn already had 127 yards on 18 carries, helping the Mavericks accumulate 320 yards of offense.
In the second half, the Mavericks were able to continue to move the ball but had to settle for two field goals, one each by Williams and Ashton Garner.
“It was nothing they did; it was something we were doing,” Gunn said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. But we’ll get better.”
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Steven Nava sparked the Mustangs’ offense, which scored on a couple of touchdown passes to pull withing 31-23. The Mustangs were inside the red zone early in the fourth quarter when Cole Schroedermeier made an interception.
The Mavericks responded with a 90-yard drive in six plays, with Ryan Schlichte passing 24 yards to Shane Zylstra, who was single-covered for one of the few times in the game, that made it 38-23. The pass rush snuffed out Southwest’s final possession to keep it at 38-23.
The Mavericks ended up with 601 yards of offense and more than 11 minutes of possession time. Ekowa and Schlichte combined for 126 yards rushing and 207 yards passing. Southwest had 350 yards with 346 yards passing.
Linebacker Destyn Woody led the defense with eight tackles. The Mavericks made six sacks, with linebacker Zach Robertson making two.
Minnesota State (1-0) plays its home opener Saturday against Augustana.
“Augustana has a great passing game, and we’ll have our hands full,” Hoffner said. “We have to defend Blakeslee.”
Notes: Zylstra's touchdown was the 37th of his Minnesota State carreer, whch set a team record. ... Defensive end Chance Bowen (knee) and running back Justin Taormina (shoulder) both suffered injuries during the first half and did not return. ... Minnesota State is 18-0 in the series with Southwest. ... The victory was No. 11 for Minnesota State in the Northern Sun.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.