MINNEAPOLIS - Southwest Minnesota State quarterback Charlie Kern passed for 317 yards and tossed five touchdown passes, while Tyler Tonderum, the leading rushing in Division II, racked up 156 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries to lead SMSU to a 55-24 victory over Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday at the Metrodome.
The victory was the third straight for the Mustangs (6-4 overall, 4-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division) and secures the program's first winning season since 2008 and just the ninth in program history.
The win also keeps SMSU in the hunt for the Mineral Water Bowl, which goes to the highest ranked team in the NSIC that does not qualify for the NCAA playoffs. The Mustangs are tied for fourth place in the NSIC standings with both Winona State and Upper Iowa, but SMSU has beaten both teams. The three-game winning streak is the longest for the Mustangs since 2004.
Concordia-St. Paul Sports Information Office
Southwest Minnesota State’s Dashawn Miller tackles Concordia-St. Paul’s Tre Spears during a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division football game Saturday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
"I felt like our team was ready to play because we had a good start and we out some points on the board early," Southwest Minnesota State head coach Corey Sauter said. "Any time that we can score 35 points in a first half, that usually puts us in a good position to secure a victory."
Sauter said he was pleased with all facets of the Mustangs' effort, but one area made him especially happy.
"Once we were able to get inside the red zone, we scored touchdowns on all five of those drives," Sauter said. "That was very encouraging. Plus, we were able to convert all four of our fourth-down attempts."
Kern completed 27 of 39 pass attempts and recorded his third 300-yard passing game of the season. He also rushed for 57 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Jordan Cross and Cody Condon each led SMSU with six receptions, with Cross finishing with 92 yards and one touchdown, while Condon had 70 yards and two scores. Anthony Dean finished with two receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
The Mustangs, who entered the game ranked fifth in Division II in total offense, racked up 571 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per play. SMSU finished with 254 yards rushing and 29 first downs. In the process, the Mustangs set a school record for total offense in a single-season, surpassing the 1987 team. SMSU has recorded 5,495 yards this season.
Sauter was more impressed with another statistic - turnovers.
"The last several weeks as we have put together a nice winning streak, we have not put ourselves in a bad position by turning the ball over," Sauter said.
SMSU has a margin of plus-2 (18 takeaways, 16 giveaways) this season. Since Oct. 26, Southwest Minnesota State's margin is plus-3 (four takeaways, one giveaway).
The Mustangs opened the game's scoring on its first drive, after the SMSU defense forced a punt on Concordia's opening drive. Tonderum began the drive with a 34-yard run and, then, closed the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes, 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs forced another punt and the SMSU offense quickly moved the ball 92 yards in 13 plays with Kern completing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Condon to make the score 14-0 late in the quarter.
Concordia used a 72-yard kickoff return to set up a short touchdown drive and trim the lead to 14-7.
Following punts by both teams, SMSU extended its lead early in the second quarter with Kern completing a 63-yard touchdown pass to Dean to make the score 21-7.
The Golden Bears answered with a touchdown midway through the quarter to trim the lead to 21-14, but SMSU responded with Tonderum leading the way. The junior running back had runs of 22 and 14 yards to help move the ball to the 17-yard line, before Kern connected on a touchdown pass to Condon to give the Mustangs a 28-14 advantage.
Following a punt forced by the SMSU defense, Kern capped a three-play drive scoring with a 7-yard run to make the score 35-14 with 2:57 left in the first half.
Concordia scored on a fourth-and-4 from the 37-yard line with Jarred Russo connecting with Cordell Smith for a touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining to make the score 35-21 at halftime.
The Mustangs stormed out in the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard drive with Kern closing with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dean, pushing the lead to 42-21.
Concordia put together a solid drive, moving the ball to the SMSU 7-yard line, but on fourth-and-5, the SMSU defense stopped the Golden Bears on downs to keep the momentum on its sideline.
Following a Mustangs punt, Concordia answered with a 35-yard Tom Obarski field goal to make the score 42-24 after three quarters.
SMSU put the game away on its next possession, moving the ball 71 yards on 14 plays and taking advantage of a Concordia 15-yard penalty on fourth-and-5 from the Golden Bears' 47-yard line. Facing third and-8 from the Concordia 16-yard line, Kern found Cross open for a touchdown pass, extending the margin to 48-24.
The Mustangs defense, who allowed 370 yards in the game, capped the scoring with Dashawn Miller stepping in front of a Russo pass and returning it 22 yards for a touchdown to make the score 55-24. It was Miller's second interception return for a touchdown this season and third by the SMSU defense.
"Being able to get a score from our defense not only extended our lead in the second half, but it also put us in a great position to win the game," Sauter said.
A.J. Page led the Mustangs defense with a team-high nine tackles, with one for lost yardage and forced a fumble. J.J. Bobrowicz and Blake Pennock each added eight tackles.
Page ranks second in the NSIC in tackles, third in tackles for loss and sixth in sacks. He now has 101 tackles on the season, becoming the first SMSU player since 2007 (Tyler Reed) to record 100 or more tackles in one season.
Southwest Minnesota State closes the regular season at Augustana (4-6, 2-4 NSIC South) on Saturday with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.
At the Metrodome, Minneapolis
SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA STATE 55, CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL 24
SW Minnesota State1421713-55
SMSU - Tyler Tonderum 23 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 10:53.
SMSU - Cody Condon 8 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 3:42.
CSP - Tre Spears 6 run (Tom Obarski kick), 2:42.
SMSU - Anthony Dean 63 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 13:37.
CSP - Cordell Smith 14 pass from Jared Russo (Tom Obarski kick), 8:27.
SMSU - Cody Condon 17 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 5:27.
SMSU - Charlie Kern 7 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 2:57.
CSP - Cordell Smith 37 pass from Jared Russo (Lance Schuveiller kick), 0:25.
SMSU - Anthony Dean 8 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 12:13.
CSP - Tom Obarski 35 field goal, 0:07.
SMSU - Jordan Cross 16 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick blocked), 10:17.
SMSU - Dashawn Miller 22 interception return (Lance Schuveiller kick), 9:10.
Total Net Yards571370
Time of Possession23:1336:47
RUSHING - Southwest Minnesota State (Tyler Tonderum 22-156, Charlie Kern 11-57, Ashanti Payne 4-34, Caleb Burns 1-7); Concordia-St. Paul (Tre Spears 19-84, Ronald Zollicoffer 7-21, Jared Russo 2-15, Tom Obarski 1-13, Gabe Boyce 2-7, Bruce Russell 1-3, Corey Cole 1-0).
PASSING - Southwest Minnesota State (Charlie Kern 27-39-317-5-0); Concordia-St. Paul (Jared Russo 27-31-227-2-1).
RECEIVING - Southwest Minnesota State (Jordan Cross 6-92, Cody Condon 6-70, Britt Wickett 5-30, Tyler Tonderum 4-24, Anthony Dean 2-71, Adam Olson 2-24, Will Kurka 1-5, Charlie Kern 1-1); Concordia-St. Paul (Cordell Smith 5-102, Ronald Zollicoffer 4-20, Corey Cole 3-44, Jermaine Clemon 3-13, Tre Spears 3-5, Raphael Washington 2-23, Gabe Boyce 2-7, Matt Buhmann 1-13).
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.