Move over John Elway and the Denver Broncos, Now the Minnesota State football team now has its own version of "The Drive."
The No. 1-ranked Mavericks pulled out a 13-10 victory over Tarleton State on Saturday by scoring 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points. The win puts them into the semifinals of the NCAA Division II tournament where they will host one more game.
The catalyst for the comeback was a 97-yard, 27-play drive that ate more than 12 minutes and pulled MSU within 10-7 early in the fourth quarter.
Senior running back Nate Gunn was the centerpiece of the drive, carrying 18 times for 68 yards amid blizzard-like conditions on a field covered with about four inches of snow.
The first 92 yards of the march was conducted exclusively on the ground. When it got to be fourth-and-goal from the 5, however, quarterback Ryan Schlichte dropped back, looked to his left and lofted a pass to Shane Zylstra, who made a nice grab in the end zone while falling down.
"To me, the third quarter was the difference in the game," Tarleton coach Todd Whiten said. "I think we had three snaps in the third quarter and they had 31."
Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner agreed: "I don't think I've coached a team that has done anything quite like that before. Twenty-seven plays is a lot, and that kept their offense on the sideline for a long time where they might have gotten cold."
Gunn ended up breaking a 50-year-old program record by rushing 50 times in the game. The previous mark of 48 was set by Bernie Maczuga in 1968.
Gunn also ended up with 261 yards rushing, which ranks second in program history behind Bobby Ruffin's 267-yard effort in 2002, and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:47 to play. The running back said he had no problem carrying the ball as many times as he did.
"I've had plenty of games where I've carried it more than 30 times so this was just a few more carries," he said.
Tarleton struck first in the opening quarter, completing a nine-play 63-yard drive with a 29-yard field goal into the wind by Joanly Martinez.
The Texans added to their lead in second. Quarterback Ben Holmes hooked up with Zimari Manning on the right sideline when the defender fell down and Manning raced 67 yards to the end zone.
The Mavericks threatened near the end of the half, getting the ball down to the Tarleton 5 on a 21-yard pass from Schlichte to Justin Arnold. They failed to capitalize, however, as they were pushed back by penalties before Schlichte was picked off on third down with three seconds left.
Most of the first half was snow-free, but by the time the teams came out to start the third quarter, the field was coated with a couple of inches of snow.
That's when the Mavericks put together The Drive to pull within 10-7 early in the fourth quarter. The MSU defense played well in the first half but was even more stingy in the second, shutting out a Tarleton team that averaged just under 48 points and 528 yards of offense per game.
Junior linebacker Zach Robertson paced the defensive effort, recording a team-high eight tackles.
"The footing was definitely a lot more difficult in the second half," he said. "It was hard to get over to where you needed to be to make the play, but we got through it."
The Mavericks delivered the winning score with 1:47 left when Gunn completed a seven-play, 76-yard drive with a sweep around right end for a 13-yard TD. The drive was set up by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the kick return, a pass interference call and another unsportsmanlike penalty.
"Those penalties really hurt them," Hoffner said. "They helped us keep the drive alive."
The key plays of the drive were a 36-yard run by Gunn, another 11-yard run by Schlichte and Gunn's decisive 13-yard touchdown.
Tarleton ends it season at 12-1 while MSU improves to 13-0.
"That was two very good football teams out there today," Hoffner said. "But it's like that every week when you get this far into the playoffs."
Minnesota State (13-0) will host Ferris State (14-0) in the national semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Jim Rueda is The Free Press Sports Editor. Follow him on twitter @JimRueda