By: Martin Schlegel
As the rain poured down on Scheels Field, and fans ran for cover, MSUM squeaked out a 21-20 victory over Concordia-St Paul.
The Dragon’s built up a 21-10 halftime lead, but watched as it nearly washed away.
Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said the team was resilient throughout the second-half rain storm.
“This week I challenged our upperclassmen to play great football,” Laqua said. He added that the group did just that.
The Golden Bears offense, which came into the game with a 30 percent success rate on Third-Downs, converted five of nine chances in the first half. In the second half, the Dragons defense flipped the script, allowing just two more Third-Down conversions.
The defense wasn’t the only ones to step up in the second half.
Sophomore running back Jonathan Kabambi ran for just 39 yards in the first half, but stepped up in a big way for MSUM as he ran for 81 yards in the second half. Senior running back Austin Stone started the first half strong but an ankle injury opened the door for Kabambi.
“I think the (offensive line) did a great job all game opening holes,” Kabambi said. “They deserve a lot of credit for the runs we were able to pull off.”
Laqua saw it somewhat differently.
“I think Jon made some good runs on his own,” Laqua said, “but I think the offensive line weathered the storm. At the end, I think they imposed their will. We were able to move the football and kind of grind the clock out to secure the win.”
On the Golden Bears opening drive, one that started with an illegal substitution, things looked positive for the Dragons. However, the Golden Bears marched down the field with authority, converting on two third downs along the way. Darnell Rolle capped off the drive with a 9-yard run.
Grady Bresnahan got the Dragons back in the game. With little to no room to make anything positive happen, Bresnahan managed a 24-yard return with a Golden Bear personal foul added on.
The Dragons were in business with excellent field position. Bresnahan finished what he started after catching a 28-yard pass from Demetrius Carr.
Then Stone took over.
Stone rushed for two touchdowns in the second quarter. His first came on the Dragons first drive of the second quarter, giving MSUM a 14-7 lead.
After converting on on three of four Third-Downs, the Dragons finally made a stop close to the Red Zone, forcing Concordia-St. Paul to kick a 35-yard field goal.
Ten minutes after his first touchdown, it was Stone again with the rushing touchdown, finishing a 3:02 drive. The Dragons were set with a 21-10 lead.
By the end of the first half, he had 59 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In the second quarter alone he rushed for 45 yards.
To start the third quarter, the Dragons defense, which gained more momentum as the first half went on, seemed to lose that mojo.
Backup quarterback Ron Johnson guided the Golden Bears down the field on an 11 play drive. Missed tackles were the theme of the drive as the Dragons allowed quite a bit of yards after contact.
Laqua admitted the defensive start was slow at first, but said the team rallied hard as the game progressed.
The Golden Bears inched closer on an 8-yard pass from Johnson to sophomore Marcus Gustaveson.
With Johnson methodically working Concordia-St. Paul down the field late in the third quarter, and the score 21-17, the Dragons defense came up with a game-changing fumble recovery.
Sophomore defensive back Jerry Raye laid into Johnson, who was running for the corner of the end zone. The ball flung loose, tipped by two Dragon defenders, and eventually recovered by Raye.
Huge momentum changer,” Laqua said of the fumble. “(Concordia-St. Paul) is going in to take the lead and really deflate our sails. Great hit that he pops the ball out. That was a real rollercoaster of emotions in about five seconds.”
The fumble recovery gave MSUM the ball back just before the third quarter, a quarter in which the Dragons failed to score, ended.
In the fourth quarter, the Dragons defense held off the Golden Bears until Jonas Schenderlein kicked a 23-yard field goal with 9:37 remaining, which shrunk the Dragons lead to one point.
The fourth quarter featured a couple of huge Dragons stops. Including one with under five minutes left in the game.
Kabambi ran for 31 yards in the final drive to dry up any doubt of a potential upset.