MARSHALL - No. 1-ranked Minnesota State delivered two big blows to the Southwest Minnesota State football team Saturday at The Schawn Regional Event Center.
Not only did the Mavericks post a 55-27 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division victory, MSU also sidelined Mustangs starting quarterback Charlie Kern with a knee injury early in the third quarter.
Kerns' status will not be known until after he is medically evaluated this week.
Photo by Jeff Arenz
Southwest Minnesota State defensive end A.J. Page (5) tackles Minnesota State quarterback Jon Wolf (11) during a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division game Saturday at The Schwan Regional Event Center.
"We should have more information early in the week," SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. "It might be a slight knee injury. It might be something slight that he could play with. He might need a brace. We will have to look at the situation and see where he's at. It's never fun to see your starting quarterback go down."
Minnesota State's defense took control of the game on the very first play from scrimmage. Patrick Schmidt intercepted Kern's first passing attempt and returned the ball to the SMSU 1 only after 14 seconds had elapsed.
The interception was the first of six passes picked off by the Mavericks on Saturday. It was the most interceptions by a Minnesota State defense since it collected seven in a game in 1997. Schmidt, Bryan Keys, Justin Otto, Nathan Hancock, Jordan Hale and Ryan Saumur all had interceptions, while combining for 74 return yards.
"We knew that we had to come out with great emotion, energy, focus and execute really well," MSU interim head coach Aaron Keen said. "Any time you're facing an offense like SMSU's, particularly a no-huddle offense, I think the key thing is to finish. We still had to tackle well and finish plays. In the first half, we did an outstanding job of that. Our defense put us in a great position to score and it was the key to our victory."
Three seconds later, Connor Thomas reached the end zone after a 1-yard run. Sam Brockshus, who went 6 of 6 in PAT kicks, handed MSU a 7-0 lead with 14:43 left in the first quarter.
Sauter would have liked to have seen a different start for the Mustangs.
"We had a few opportunities, early in the game, to stay with MSU, but it didn't materialize," Sauter said. "It's never good start any ballgame by, basically, spotting your opponent seven points and then having the ability to get a turnover that we couldn't capitalize upon because an interception was dropped."
Keen said the Mavericks' offense was able to execute better inside the red zone.
"One of the things we have struggled with, the last couples weeks, has been production in red zone," Keen said. "We had great success with that in this game and I felt good about the way our guys game ready to play."
Thomas was the game's leading rusher, running 19 times for 153 yards. He added two more rushing touchdowns in the second quarter, making a 33-yard run on the first play of period and producing a 13-yard run with 1:44 remaining in the first half.
Minnesota State's defense took away any sort of rushing attack that Southwest Minnesota State attempted to produce. MSU, which won the battle of rushing yards 383-92, was actually outgained in total yards 489-432. SMSU leading rusher Tyler Tonderum was limited to 61 yards on 19 carries.
"A big part of our philosophy, as a football program, is to shut down our opponents' run game and make them one-dimensional and get after the passer in the pocket," Keen said. "Putting pressure on the passer sometimes makes him get rid of the ball earlier than he would want."
The Mavericks dominated the first half, scoring touchdowns on five of their first six possessions. In addition to Thomas' TD carries, Minnesota State built a 28-0 first-half lead on quarterback Jon Wolf's 9-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Carter in the first quarter and Wolf's 65-yard run with 9:12 left in the first half.
"All-in-all, Minnesota State is a good football team and it showed (Saturday)," Sauter said. "We did not play our best game, but part of that was what they did against us. Give MSU credit, they are very deserving of that No. 1 ranking. I didn't see a weakness in them. If there is one, I'd like to know what it is because MSU is very good across the board."
Sauter said the Mustangs can use this game to improve in the future.
"There is always things we can look at and improve," Sauter said. "We have to find out where the breakdowns came by looking at the film. Sometimes, in this game, it was matter of their guy making a play over our guy."
Wolf, who completed only 5 of 9 passes for 49 yards, was not intercepted and threw two TD passes. His second touchdown strike, which was also from nine yards out, came in the fourth quarter and went to Matt Murphy with 5:16 remaining.
Wolf, who was more impressive with his legs, added 112 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He used a 10-yard third-quarter run to reach the end zone to give the Mavericks a 45-14 lead after the Mustangs had scored TDs on their last two possessions.
Down 35-0, Charlie Kern attempted to rally SMSU through the air. His 3-yard pass to Caleb Burns ended MSU's shutout attempt with 1:44 left in the first half. Then, Kern connected with Tonderum on a 44-yard TD pass at the 12:41 mark of the third quarter to cut the Mustangs' deficit to 35-14.
But Kern paid a huge price for completing his final touchdown pass.
After tossing the ball to Tonderum, he was hit by an MSU defender and laid on the turf for several minutes after the play was over and medical staff evaluated him. Later, he limped off the field with help from center Brandon Puffer. At the end of the game, Kern left the field on crutches.
Minnesota State took a 45-14 lead on Wolf's 10-yard run and Brockshus' 39-yard field.
Chris Stemen, who played in relief of Kern, threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Jordan Cross and Will Kurka. The pass to Cross was a 27-yard connection with 9:18 left, while the toss to Kurka covered six yards and came with no time remaining.
NOTE: SMSU's leading wideout Anthony Dean limped off the field after making a special teams tackle early in the game and played sparingly in the second half.
NO. 1 MINNESOTA STATE 52, SOUTHWEST MINN. STATE 27
MSU - Connor Thomas 1 run (Sam Brockshus kick), 14:43.
MSU - Dennis Carter 9 pass from Jon Wolf (Sam Brockshus kick), 6:27.
MSU - Connor Thomas 33 run (Sam Brockshus kick), 14:52.
MSU - Jon Wolf 65 run (Sam Brockshus kick), 9:20.
MSU - Connor Thomas 13 run (Sam Brockshus kick), 1:44.
SMSU - Caleb Burns 3 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 0:21.
SMSU - Tyler Tonderum 44 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 12:41.
MSU - Jon Wolf 10 run (Sam Brockshus kick), 6:54.
MSU - Sam Brockshus 39 field goal, 2:52.
SMSU - Jordan Cross 27 pass from Chris Stemen (Lance Schuveiller kick), 9:18.
MSU - Matt Murphy 9 pass from Jon Wolf (Sam Brockshus kick), 5:26.
SMSU - Will Kurka 6 pass from Chris Stemen (no PAT kick, end of game), 0:00.
Total Net Yards432489
Time of Possession33:5326:07
RUSHING - Minnesota State (Connor Thomas 19-153, Jon Wolf 15-112, Chad Zastrow 9-63, Mitch Brozovich 6-46, Anthony Lewis 4-9, TEAM 1-minus 1); Southwest Minnesota State (Tyler Tonderum 19-61, Charlie Kern 7-16, Ashanti Payne 2-10, Britt Wickett 1-5, Chris Stemen 1-0).
PASSING - Minnesota State (Jon Wolf 5-9-49-2-0); Southwest Minnesota State (Charlie Kern 23-35-216-2-3, Chris Stemen 15-23-181-2-3).
RECEIVING - Minnesota State (Dennis Carter 2-23, Austin Rieder 1-15, Matt Murphy 1-9, Connor Thomas 1-2); Southwest Minnesota State (Adam Olson 11-114, Jordan Cross 6-98, Cody Condon 6-47, Tyler Tonderum 4-67, Will Kurka 4-43, Britt Wickett 4-24, Ashanti Payne 2-1, Caleb Burns 1-3).
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.