By: Martin Schlegel
With a full house, a beer garden and a large number of distinguished MSUM alumni on hand for homecoming, Minnesota-Duluth came into Moorhead and spoiled the festivities.
An unusually low scoring affair ended in a Minnesota-Duluth 23-14 victory, extending its winning streak against MSUM to 16 games.
However, the Dragon’s defense kept the team in the game, allowing just 273 yards.
“Defensively we played some of the best football we’ve played in the last few weeks,” Dragon’s head coach Steve Laqua said. “We answered the bell defensively.”
On the second offensive play for the Dragons, Grady Bresnahan caught a screen pass. After running three yards, UMD linebacker Gus Wedig forced a fumble, which was recovered by Sam Lynch of the Bulldogs.
Bresnahan’s fumble was all-but forgotten as he caught 9 passes for 146 yards by game’s end.
“Typically a young player will kind-of go in the tank after that, but he responded and came back to play good football,” Laqua said of Bresnahan’s fumble and game thereafter. “Grady is a dynamic player, he’s got quickness, he’s got speed, electric with the ball in the hand. He’s a redshirt freshman and he really stepped up on the big stage today.”
Bresnahan said he was prepared to have a big game.
“There’s no way to cover Damon (Gibson) beside throwing a couple extra guys on him,” Bresnahan said. “When they do that, it opens things up for everyone else. I was just fortunate enough for Demetrius (Carr) to find me a couple times.”
The Dragons spent several drives trying to form any continuity on offense in the first quarter. An alarming amount of drives stalled out as the Dragons were forced to punt eight times.
“Offensively, we didn’t make enough plays so we left the defense out there for more plays than they needed to and eventually it wore them down,” Laqua said.
Finally a break for the Dragons, Bresnahan caught a 45-yard pass from Carr, a play that seemed to awake the sleeping Dragon’s offense.
Once in the red zone, Moorhead failed to put anything together. Two costly penalties backed up the Dragons which forced the team to kick to a field goal. Ruan Alburquerque’s try went wide left.
The Bulldogs took over at the 20-yard line but coughed up the football immediately on the first play of the drive.
With excellent field position, the Dragons looked to score the first points of the game.
The Dragons struggled to gain any yards and attempted a first down on fourth-and-1 on the 7-yard line. Austin Stone was met at the line of scrimmage by a gang of Bulldogs and was stopped short of the first down.
“We had the ball right where we wanted in the red zone a couple times in the first half,” Bresnahan said. “We just need to finish those drives.”
Getting the ball back with momentum on its side, UMD marched down the field. Upon entering the end zone, the MSUM defense held tough. The Dragons deflected a third-down pass, forcing UMD to attempt a field goal.
Dan Branger’s kick was blocked. Amazingly the game remained knotted at 0.
“Our defense came up absolutely huge for us this afternoon,” Bresnahan said. “You could just feel a spark on our sideline, the fans, everywhere. They had some huge stops when we needed them.”
Nearing the end of the first half, it seemed as if neither team would score. The Bulldogs changed that.
On its second trip to the red zone, UMD quarterback Ben Everhart tossed a screen pass out to running back Griffin Hill. With one man to beat, Hill broke a shoestring tackle and hopped with joy into the end zone with 47 seconds left in the first half.
On the opening drive of the second half, UMD made another trip to the red zone. The Dragons defense sacked Everhart on third down, an important play as the Bulldogs came away with just a field goal.
With the score 10-0 in favor of UMD, the Dragons breezed down the field thanks to Bresnahan. He caught three passes for 54 yards including a diving catch in tight coverage for MSUM’s first touchdown of the game.
Later in the third quarter, MSUM took its first lead of the game. Carr, on a quarterback keeper, ran 20 yards for a TD.
Nearly five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs regained the lead. Backup quarterback John Larson, who replaced Everhart early on in the second half, found a wide-open Dominic Bonner for a 20-yard TD pass.
Three minutes later, Anthony Wood ran for 13-yard TD to extend the Bulldogs lead. The initial extra point kick had to be redone due to a holding penalty. The second try was blocked, but nothing came of the return.
In a desperate attempt to make it a one-possession game, Carr heaved a pass into the end zone with less than a minute left. The ball was intercepted, ending the Dragons homecoming hopes a win.