Story and photo courtesy of Minnesota State Athletics
MANKATO, Minn. - Fifth-ranked Minnesota State led 13th-ranked Northwest Missouri State 21-0 at the half in its NCAA second round playoff game at Blakeslee Stadium Saturday. Little did anyone know that it would take until the second overtime session to decide a winner.
Redshirt freshman defensive back Justin Otto intercepted a pass in the end zone in the second overtime and junior kicker Sam Brockshus booted a 27-yard field goal as MSU won a thriller 38-35 over the Bearcats moving the Mavericks on to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Football Championship.
The Mavericks picked off Northwest Missouri State quarterback Trevor Adams three times in the first half which helped catapult MSU to the big halftime lead. The first interception came on the fourth play of the game when junior defensive back Robert Gunderson hauled in an interception on the 22-yard line of the Bearcats. Sophomore running back Andy Pfeiffer took it in from a yard out to give the Mavericks an early 7-0 lead.
“We have full faith we’re going to get good stops and get turnovers in every game,” said Otto.
Pfeiffer led MSU’s ground attack by gaining 120 yards on 25 carries and two scores. The team rushed for 236 yards with quarterback Jon Wolf rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown. Wolf was 10-for-19 through the air for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
“We all were just in the zone,” said Pfeiffer. “It was a big thing they (offensive line) were able to deny penetration and open up some holes.”
MSU went up 14-0 on the third play of the second quarter when Wolf rolled out and found a sophomore H-Back Jeff Burns wide-open for a five-yard touchdown reception.
Sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Keys intercepted a ball off a deflection at the MSU 32-yard line which led to MSU’s next touchdown. The Mavericks took the ball and drove 68 yards on 14 plays culminating in a Wolf keeper from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to give MSU a 21-0 halftime lead.
The second half was a complete reversal of the first. Northwest Missouri’s Jayron Robinson blocked a Darin Howell punt and was recovered and returned by the Bearcats to the MSU 16. Billy Creason scored from nine yards out to pull them within 21-7 less than three minutes into the second half.
On their next possession, Joel Gantz caught a five-yard pass from Adams for a touchdown capping a seven-play, 63-yard drive to make it 21-14.
MSU countered as sophomore wideout Keyvan Rudd hauled in a juggling 14-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Mavericks up 28-14.
The Bearcats first drive of the fourth quarter turned out the same way as their third quarter possessions ended, with a touchdown. They drove 75 yards in 13 plays culminating with a Tyler Shaw 17-yard touchdown reception from Adams.
After holding MSU without a first down, Robinson broke through the MSU line and blocked his second punt of the second half and was brought back to the MSU four-yard line. Jordan Simmons rushed it in on the next play tying the game at 28-28 with 7:11 to go.
MSU was able to withstand a pair of Jon Wolf turnovers late in regulation and the game went to overtime.
The Mavericks got the ball first and drove the 25 yards on four plays with all rushes ending with a Pfeiffer six-yard touchdown run.
Northwest Missouri State scored quickly to counter as Simmons caught a 25-yard pass from Adams on their second play of overtime. The Bearcats lined up for the two-point conversion in an attempt to win, but after MSU called a time-out, they reconsidered and kicked the extra point to tie it.
Otto picked a good time for his first career interception picking off an Adams pass in the end zone on the Bearcats double overtime possession. MSU then drove down to the ten and called on Brockshus on third down to kick the game winner.
For acting head coach Aaron Keen, the way his players were able to withstand Northwest Missouri State’s rally and come away with the victory is extraordinary.
“That’s some mental training with our players,” he said. “There’s something special in the belief in they have in one another and the belief they have in their abilities.”
The win advances the Mavericks to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Football Championship where they will host Missouri Western State next Saturday at noon at historic Blakeslee Stadium.