The MSUM Dragons battled to a 48-41 victory in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action over the University of Mary Marauders to take home “The Paddle.”
The traveling trophy has stayed with the Marauders for the seven years of its existence, but the Dragons made sure the trophy didn’t leave Moorhead this time. The win was a great reward for the improvement the Dragons have made.
“The reason guys came to play for our program is to do things that haven’t been done before, and this is one of those things,” head coach Steve Laqua said. “Not many opportunities come along where you have a game like this, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Jake Hodge put on a clinic in the first half, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns along with two rushing touchdowns.
The sophomore dual-threat quarterback hooked up with Cory Ambrose for a 60-yard score to get on the board, hit Miles Montplaiser for a 20-yard touchdown and threw a strike to Zayne Medhaug in the flats for a 44-yard touchdown.
Hodge helped the Dragons take a 34-14 lead into the locker room, but was injured the first drive of the second half.
“Our guys were hungry right away, and (Hodge) was phenomenal making plays and creating things out of nothing,” Laqua said. “Our guys fed off his level of play. It was a letdown and left a void, and it took a little while for someone to step up and be a leader, and once we got in a rhythm we did alright.”
Backup quarterback Ryan Toelle took the reigns for the Dragons and kept the Dragons afloat.
After a Marauder touchdown, Brandon Schell carried the team down the field for a drive that was capped off by a Toelle fade to Adam Jiskra.
“Ryan Toelle made some plays when we needed him to, and we opened the offense back up, and he was able to execute and help us get points,” Laqua said.
Mary scored three straight touchdowns to make the score 41 all with just over nine minutes left.
Toelle sparked the Dragons with their final scoring drive with big completions to several receivers. Facing a third-and-nine at the Mary 39, the Dragons turned to their sure-handed receiver, Jiskra. Toelle turned right and hit Jiskra on a screen. The speedy receiver made a couple defenders miss, as he ran in for the go-ahead score to finish the game with 131 yards and two scores.
“We made a point to get the ball into Adam’s hands and spread it around so guys could take the pressure off (Toelle),” Laqua said.
Mary’s quarterback Craig Bagnell looked to drive the Marauders down the field to tie the game.
After a few long completions, Jesse Beilke picked off Bagnell’s pass with 12 seconds left to seal the win.
“Our defense hung in there at the end. Their first half was phenomenal, and when we needed it they stepped up,” Laqua said. “Their backs were against the wall to win the game, and I couldn’t be more proud of how they competed.”
Toelle was a big reason for the Dragons’ win, as the sophomore quarterback completed 11 out of 15 passes for 115 yards. He credits his performance to the players around him.
“It was great to get ‘The Paddle’ for the first time,” Toelle said. “My receivers and O-line were great today. I stepped in for Hodge, and they really picked me up.”
The Dragons look to earn their second straight victory as they head to Minot, N.D., to take on Minot State University. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
BY TURNER BLAUFUSS