by Turner Blaufuss
Minnesota State University Moorhead’s brand new field turf was unveiled Thursday night and along with the new look of Scheels Field, the MSUM football team looks like they have a new look of their own. The fired up Dragons went wild in their school’s first ever night game with a 42-17 statement win over the Winona State University Warriors.
“I think fun is an understatement on that game. It was certainly exciting to bring in a new field with great atmosphere,” MSUM coach Steve Laqua said. “That’s a big step for our program. Our guys need to play in a pressure-packed game against a good football team and be able to produce.”
MSUM quarterback Jake Hodge went to work on the new turf tossing five TD passes, while the defense made their presence felt early and often, turning in one of their best performances in recent memory. Laqua points to the program’s progress after the Dragons had dropped 14-straight games to the Warriors before the Thursday night showdown.
“They were the first NSIC team we played when we got here as coaches and they took it to us pretty good,” Laqua said. “We said, ‘we need to get where they are. That’s a step we’ve got to take. We’ve got to put a plan in place and stick with the plan.’ So to win against a program like that is pretty satisfying.”
Senior receiver Preston Prince christened the bright red end zone reeling in Hodge’s pass on a seam route from 28 yards out in the second quarter. Later in the quarter, senior captain Zayne Medhaug took a handoff and sliced through the defense for an eight-yard touchdown to take a 14-0 lead into the half.
The Warriors had two chances to get on the board first, but a fumble recovery by Garrett Shelley inside the Dragon 10 and a Chris Binford interception in the end zone stalled a pair of Winona’s drives in the red zone. The Dragon’s special teams got in on the act too, blocking the Warrior’s field goal attempt right before halftime.
“The big message when we got ahead 14-0 was to reel in reality and understand it’s really not 14-0 because it was close to being 14-14,” Laqua said. “We were fortunate to dodge some bullets early. I don’t know if the new field’s got a little mystique, but if it helped us out there, we’ll take it.”
The Dragons allowed a Warrior touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, but MSUM’s offense was ready to answer. On the ensuing drive, Hodge hooked up with Adam Jiskra and Corey Ambrose for big gains to set the Dragons up with a first down on the Warrior 11-yard line. Hodge faked the jet sweep handoff and lofted the throw to the wheeling Medhaug for the TD connection.
Winona kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 11 before the Dragon offense slammed the door on the Warriors. The fourth-year QB ended the third quarter strong hitting Damon Gibson on a fly route for a 49-yard touchdown and Jiskra finally joined the party burning Winona’s secondary for a 39-yard TD reception to become the fourth MSUM player to snag a Hodge TD pass.
“If we can spread the ball around to everybody we’ll have too many weapons for defenses to be able to stop,” Medhaug said.
Hodge’s fifth and final TD pass came on a quick red zone fade to Gibson on fourth-and-14 in the final quarter. It was Gibson’s second catch and touchdown of the day. Winona scored one more touchdown with under a minute left to play to move the score to 42-17.
The Dragons (1-0) hit the road to take on the Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears. Kickoff is set for noon on Saturday.
“The last two years we’ve lost the first game and we would be fishing for a win and once we got it we were on a roll, so hopefully we can keep the momentum going,” Medhaug said.