Story and photo courtesy of Minnesota Duluth Athletics
Confronting a top-ranked opponent in their own backyard with your season on the line is likely a thought that strikes fear into many football teams around the country.
Fortunately, that situation was just another where the defending national champion University of Minnesota Duluth could confidently say, “been there, done that.”
For the second time in school history, the Bulldogs stormed into enemy territory and walked away with a win over a number one squad, this time against Colorado State University-Pueblo, by a score of 24-21 in an back-and-forth NCAA Division II Playoff match.
Facing howling winds that exceeded 30 miles per hour in addition to a crowd of surly CSU-Pueblo faithful the Bulldogs relied on their formidable multi-pronged running attack to outgain Pueblo 287-224 in terms of total yardage.
Lining up across from a Thunderwolves defensive unit that had been conceding an NCAA Division II low 9.1 points per game to its foes, it was the defense of the Bulldogs that eventually evolved into one of the major storylines of the day. UMD assaulted the offensive line of CSU-Pueblo all afternoon and finished the game with a season-high five sacks including one on every Thunderwolves fourth quarter possession.
Receiving the opening kickoff, CSU-Pueblo embarked on an 11-play drive that covered 80 yards culminating with a 14-yard scamper by Mathews to take an early lead in front or a partisan crowd of 10,151.
Although they picked up just one first down in their first two possessions, the Bulldogs cut into the lead with a 46-yard field goal from David Nadeau on their second drive in the opening quarter after a woeful five yard punt from the Thunderwolves.
UMD would take the lead for the first time on a drive that featured a 25-yard run by senior tailback Zach Hulce before Chase Vogler fired a 14-yard touchdown strike to Joe Reichert on the first play in the second quarter.
A Bulldog fumble – one of two turnovers in the game for UMD - resulted in a Thunderwolves touchdown, putting UMD down 14-10 at the half. The Bulldogs responded by marching 67 yards on 15 plays to open the third quarter, capping a scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Hulce.
Calling on all of their previous championship experience, the Bulldogs ratcheted up their defensive intensity in the deciding half, allowing a paltry 70 yards of offense on four possessions for the Thunderwolves.
Despite the defensive damage being wrought by UMD, the Thunderwolves would locate the endzone one last time with an 80-yard drive that concluded with an 18-yard run to regain the momentum with a 21-17 score.
Jubilation disguised itself as disaster to begin the Bulldogs' game-winning drive when Vogler rattled off the longest play from scrimmage for UMD with a 31-yard scramble down to the CSU-Pueblo 14 yard line. The quarterback fumbled the ball, but it was recovered at the nine yard line by wide receiver Reichert. From there, senior tailback Brian Lucas put the final touchdown on the board with a one-yard plunge. Nadeau split the uprights to make it a 24-21 game.
The Bulldogs let their defense put the exclamation point on their victory, bamboozling the Thunderwolves during their final two drives. The home squad could not solve the UMD defense that sparkled in crunch time, getting sacks from Blake Rogers and Wade Sebold to hold CSU-Pueblo to -10 yards during the span.
Vogler accounted for 183 yards of offense, amassing 60 on the ground as well as 83 through the air. Hulce picked up a game-high 84 rushing yards while Lucas added 62 for the Bulldogs.
UMD will play at home next Saturday against Wayne State University, the sixth seed in Super Region Three. The Warriors, out of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, upset Nebraska-Kearney 38-26 earlier in the day to punch their ticket to Duluth.