The MSUM Dragons came close, but couldn’t squeak by the Concordia St. Paul Golden Bears at home, as they dropped to 0-4.
Down 36-34 with 12 seconds remaining, the Dragons drove to the Golden Bears’ six yard line and their go-ahead field goal was blocked. Despite the defeat, the Dragons turned in one of their finest showings of the season and put on a show for the Homecoming crowd.
“I’m proud of how our team battled. We played well enough to win, but in the end we didn’t make enough plays to get the win. It’s a tough one to take, but our program is getting better,” head coach Steve Laqua said.
The Dragons lost two fumbles early on, but the defense held strong. There was a big fourth down stop on their own 15-yard-line and the offense made the most of it. MSUM drove 85 yards down the field, and Brandon Schell capped off the drive with nine yard score on an option to the left. Schell bulldozed over a defender inside the five and stretched for the score.
Concordia took the lead with six and a half minutes to go in the second quarter with a 64-yard punt return by Cordell Smith and a two-point conversion run by James Peterson. The Golden Bears scored again before halftime, as their workhorse back Tre Spears went in from 19 yards.
The second half saw the Golden Bears ride the momentum and score another touchdown to go up 22-7.
When the Dragons looked like they were going to roll over, they rallied behind their quarterback Jake Hodge. Hodge, who is stepping into Demetrius Carr’s role as starter, made plays throughout the game, both with his arm and legs.
MSUM responded with a drive and a couple nice catches by Adam Jiskra from Hodge. Hodge ran for a first down to keep the drive alive, and the young quarterback’s legs kept a play going long enough to find a wide open Dan Grande for a 20-yard score. The catch was Grande’s first catch as a Dragon.
“Nobody looks at (Hodge) as a backup. He started for us last year and has worked hard here,” Laqua said. “They look at him as a starter, and they look at everyone else as starters. Everybody on the field has worked hard enough to be out there,.”
The Golden Bears responded with a touchdown drive of their own to extend the lead to 15, but the Dragons never wavered.
A nice drive that relied heavily on Hodge’s scrambles ended with Hodge punching in the score from one yard out. The Dragon defense continued their solid play, with a great interception in traffic from Brandon Nelson. Concordia forced a three and out and scored a 54-yard touchdown, with just over seven minutes remaining. Once again, MSUM snapped back.
Hodge completed a pair of big passes and pitched in an 11-yard run and a 20-yard run before punching in another one-yard touchdown.
After the defense forced a punt, the Dragons fumbled to give the ball back. The Dragon defense had a rare lapse on third and 14 and faced a fourth and inches at the Golden Bear 45. The MSUM defense kept the game alive with a huge stop with 1:32 left in the game.
“It was a tremendous challenge for us. We looked real well on defense and it was great for us to come up with those big stops, and it was a huge step in the right direction,” Laqua said.
Hodge hit Cory Ambrose for 19 yards, and the Dragons rushed to the line. H o d g e eluded the pass rush and found the go-to receiver, Jiskra, in the end zone from 26 yards out. The two point conversion failed, and the Dragons prepared for the onside kick. Kramer delivered a perfect onside kick that Jiskra came down with and the momentum was all Moorhead.
Hodge turned in a stellar performance finishing 21-of-38, passing for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Hodge was also the leading rusher with 107 yards and two touchdowns. Jiskra had a career day with nine catches for 180 yards and a touchdown.
“(Hodge) did a great job battling and improvising with his legs. It was a gutsy performance, and I thought he and (Jiskra) did a great job finding a rhythm and making some plays,” Laqua said.
The Dragons play at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday when they take on Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action.
BY TURNER BLAUFUSS