MARSHALL - The Southwest Minnesota State running backs and offensive linemen knew homecoming opponent Wayne State entered Saturday's matchup at Mattke Field as one of the best teams in the nation against the run. They knew the Wildcats gave up only 90 yards per game on the ground and just 2.1 yards per carry.
They knew, they just didn't care.
From the first quarter through the final whistle, the Mustangs ran right at Wayne State's vaunted defense and did so with great success. By halftime, SMSU had already piled up 183 yards on the ground. By the end of the game, the numbers had ballooned to 324 yards on 55 carries in the Mustangs' 40-24 upset victory.
Senior running backs Gannon Moore and Warren Matthews each had a field day against the Wildcats. Moore tallied 157 yards on 26 carries, and with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter he picked up his 30th career rushing touchdown to set a new SMSU school record and put the Mustangs up 40-17. Matthews added 150 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. He also scored on a 72-yard screen pass in the second quarter.
"Honestly, when (head coach Cory) Sauter came in and told Gannon and I the number that they gave up like 90 yards rushing a game, I looked and Gannon and I'm like, 'Personally, I'm not going to get held to 90 yards myself, and I know you're not,'" Matthews said. "Of course, we both just put our heads down and ran the ball, and whenever we got the ball, we were thinking that we were either gonna score or get a big play out of it."
The Mustangs (2-4 overall) got plenty of big plays as they snapped a seven-game losing streak to WSC (4-2) and won on homecoming for just the second time since the 2000 season. Those big plays came both on offense and defense.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State running back Gannon Moore, left, breaks the tackle of Wayne State linebacker Nick Monzu in the first half of Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at Mattke Field at the Regional Events Center. Moore had 26 carries for 166 yards and ran for an SMSU record 30th career rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
SMSU's defense had been a sieve through the first five games of the season, allowing 433.4 yards per game and 38.4 points per game. Saturday, everything came together for the unit and the Mustangs held WSC to 264 yards of total offense and got key interceptions from two true freshmen (cornerback Andrew McReynolds and defensive tackle Graham Ketterling).
The game began with WSC receiving the opening kick and then driving 71 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brian Kent to Chad Koch. From there, the Wildcats struggled to put anything together on offense and didn't score another touchdown until late in the third quarter.
"The defense came to play. They made some opportunistic plays and it was just good to see us jell together," Sauter said.
SMSU opened its scoring with a 39-yard field goal by Lance Schuveiller to respond to WSC's opening score, then added a touchdown with 2:18 left in the first quarter when Tyler Peschong completed a pass to receiver Abe Kos on a third-and-eight from the WSC 30-yard line. Kos caught the ball near the 15-yard line, spun out of a tackle and bounced off another defender before scampering into the end zone.
Kos finished with four catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, and Peschong was 9 of 17 passing for 185 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. But the story of the game was what the Mustangs did on the ground.
For the Mustangs' first drive of the second quarter, SMSU went 74 yards on six plays (all rushes) and scored on a 38-yard run by Matthews. The next drive saw the Mustangs run the ball five times before Peschong tossed a screen pass to Matthews and the shifty running back navigated his way from the middle of the field to the right sideline and then used his speed to pull away for a 72-yard touchdown to put SMSU up 23-7 with 4:57 left in the opening half.
Matthews was already over 100 yards rushing by halftime, and then it was Moore's turn to showcase his skills in the second half, where he ran for nearly 100 yards himself.
Sauter had so much confidence in his run game that he had the Mustangs go for it on a fourth-and-one at their own 21-yard line with the team up 33-17 late in the third quarter. Sure enough, Peschong kept the ball and lunged ahead for two yards to keep the drive alive, and Moore later capped the 15-play drive with his record-setting touchdown.
The running backs broke plenty of tackles throughout the game, but they also were given some huge holes to run through by an offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage all game.
"There are good running backs everywhere," Moore said. "You can find running backs in any division, on any team, they're all across the country, but it all comes down to the offensive line. When they're moving bodies, it looks pretty easy."
SMSU's ground game helped the team neutralize WSC's Richard Daniel, one of the top defensive ends in Division II football. He finished with just two tackles in the game, and the Wildcat defense that had 17 sacks entering the contest had zero on Saturday.
Prior to Saturday's win, the Mustangs had had a few different performances where they had put together a good half or three good quarters, but had been unable to play well for a complete game to come away with a victory. After finally putting together a complete ballgame against a good team, the Mustangs are looking to finish the season by doing more of what they did Saturday.
"We wanna keep those four losses we have as the only four losses we'll have," said Matthews, whose team faces unbeaten Minnesota State-Mankato next Saturday. "We're trying to end on a good note from here on out, not only for the seniors, but for the whole team."
WSC7 3 7 7-24
SMSU10 13 10 7-40
WSC-Chad Koch 5 pass from Brian Kent (Max Martin kick), 11:03
SMSU-Lance Schuveiller 39 field goal, 7:02
SMSU-Abe Kos 30 pass from Tyler Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 2:18
SMSU-Warren Matthews 38 run (Schuveiller kick failed), 10:50
SMSU-Matthews 72 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick) 4:57
WSC-Martin 43 field goal, 1:51
SMSU-Schuveiller 38 field goal, 11:00
SMSU-Kos 15 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 6:25
WSC-Nick Pulscher 3 run (Max kick), 3:40
SMSU-Gannon Moore 5 run (Schuveiller kick), 10:08
WSC-Pulscher 1 run (Max kick), 7:55
First Downs: WSC 14; SMSU 23. Rushing Yards: WSC 131; SMSU 324. Passing Yards: WSC 133; SMSU 185. Total Offense: WSC 264; SMSU 509. Total Plays: WSC 51; SMSU 72. Fumbles (Number-Lost): WSC 2-1; SMSU 1-0. Penalties (Number-Yards): WSC 1-15; SMSU 1-10. Possession Time: WSC 22:21; SMSU 37:39. Third-Down Conversions: WSC 3 of 11; SMSU 7 of 16. Fourth-Down Conversions: WSC 2 of 2; SMSU 2 of 2. Sacks By (Number-Yards): WSC 0-0; SMSU 1-1.
Rushing: WSC-Nick Pulscher 20-93, Kevin Paulsen 3-26; SMSU-Gannon Moore 26-157, Warren Matthews 22-150, Tyler Peschong 5-18.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): WSC-Brian Kent 5-9-51-1; Nate Most 4-9-82-1. SMSU-Peschong 9-17-185-0.
Receiving: WSC-Adam Stark 3-69, Joe Trouba 2-30, Cody Calhoun 1-13, Paulsen 1-11, Kent 1-5, Chad Koch 1-5; SMSU-Abe Kos 4-77, Matthews 1-72, Moore 1-13, AnNthony Dean 1-11, Adam Olson 1-6, Cody Condon 1-6.
Tackles: WSC-Austan Pomajzl 15, Jeff Pokorny 10, Jared Curry 9, Benjamin Perry 8; SMSU-Tate Bunkers 8, Joe Stupka 7, J.J. Bobrowicz 5, Blake Pennock 5.
Interceptions: WSC-None; SMSU-Andrew McReynolds, Graham Ketterling.
Sacks: WSC-None; SMSU-Dashawn Miller.