By: Martin Schlegel
The MSUM Dragons fell 51-35 in its home opener to the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs.
In a tale of two quarterbacks, one was sharp while the other one struggled. Mustangs quarterback Blake Gimbel seemingly found every open receiver. On the other hand, Demetrius Carr battled consistency issues, throwing five interceptions and completing less than 46 percent of his passes.
“We need to get into a rhythm, we never got into a rhythm (tonight),” head coach Steve Laqua said. “We were kind of feast or famine all night. We either had big plays and scored, or we didn’t do anything and punted.”
MSUM did its best to stifle SMSU’s running game, allowing 161 yards. Despite the effort, the Dragons were unable to slow down the passing game as Gimbel threw for 389 yards and five touchdowns.
The Mustangs ran a hurry-up offense and were effective at running the ball, gaining chunks of yardage, something Augustana failed to do in the previous week against MSUM. It wasn’t long until SMSU broke the ice with a touchdown reception by Michael Rivera in its first possession.
The Dragons responded on the team’s opening drive with a touchdown of its own. Carr’s 26-yard toss found Damon Gibson in the end zone.
Gimbel found Nate Huot in stride for the Mustang’s second touchdown in as many drives. Huot, who had 96 receiving yards in the first quarter, started a trend of SMSU receivers who were wide open.
“We did our best to change up coverages and change pressures and try to keep (Gimbel) off-balance,” Laqua said. “But he did a great job of finding the holes and recognizing what we were doing.”
SMSU kicker Skyler Crew opened the second quarter when he knocked one through the uprights. The Dragons, which had just four first downs in the first quarter, were in dire need of an extended offensive drive.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot early,” Carr said. “If we sustain some drives for the defense, giving them a break, I think the outcome would’ve been different.”
Huot’s second quarter catch, and his second touchdown reception, gave the Mustangs a 24-7 lead.
Throughout the first half Gimbel and the Mustangs offense ran quick strike pass plays. Huot was the beneficiary as he racked up 139 yards on seven catches in the first half.
In an attempt to get back into the game, Carr tried forcing deep passes to receivers Gibson and Hunter Braaten. The Mustang defense had a few passes leak through but otherwise shut down the Dragon’s aerial attack.
“I know I missed a couple guys here and there, but all our receivers are very talented,” Carr said. “Every single one of them can get open, so I have trust and have faith in all of them.”
Running back Austin Stone fumbled the ball with 26 seconds left in the second quarter. A costly mistake as the Mustangs returned the ball to the 1-yard line and scored a touchdown on the next play, putting the Dragons in a deeper hole to start the second half.
Early in the third quarter, Carr found Gibson on a deep pass. The catch set up Braaten’s 35-yard touchdown grab. The Dragon’s momentum didn’t last for long as the Mustangs answered with two scores of its own, stretching the lead to 48-21.
After which the rout was on, or so it seemed.
The Dragons rallied with two rushing touchdowns, one from Stone and the other from Carr. Suddenly the game was in reach again as the Dragons trailed by just 13 points – it was as close as the team would get.
SMSU put the game on ice with some defensive stops, and a field goal to boot.
Next week the Dragons face Winona State on the road. Laqua knows his team will need some major tweaks in order to get back in the win column.
“Offense, defense, special teams, all three phases, we’ve got to make drastic improvements from how we performed tonight,” Laqua said.