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SMSU FOOTBALL: Wayne State defense stifles Mustangs in 23-14 Ag Bowl victory over SMSU

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Max Simmons hauls in a touchdown in the second half of their game against Wayne State College on Saturday at Mattke Field. The Mustangs fell to the Wildcats 23-14 in their home opener and annual Ag Bowl game.

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University football team were decisive winners of the turnover battle in Saturday’s Ag Bowl contest against Wayne State College – generating five to the Wildcats’ zero – but an inability to capitalize on all but one of those takeaways proved to be the difference in a 23-14 loss.

Unfortunately, what the Wildcats lacked in turnovers, they made up for in constant quarterback pressure – generating eight sacks on Blake Gimbel to prevent the Mustangs offense from getting into any sort of rhythm.

“When you include the last play of the game we gave up eight sacks,” said SMSU coach Cory Sauter. “I mean that’s about four games worth of sacks. I’ve never been a part of a game like that where we gave up that many sacks, I mean not even close.”

In spite of the trend that would ensue, the Mustangs were able to kick off their home opener in style, forcing a turnover on the Wildcats’ very first drive and play from scrimmage. Shane Ratkovich applied the pressure to quarterback Aaron Bleil and forced a strip-sack that was promptly recovered by Alex Ney on the Wildcats five-yard line. A few plays later, running back Trey Sachs broke the goalline plane on an inside handoff to put six points on the board. Skyler Crew was successful on the extra-point attempt that followed, and the Mustangs found themselves up 7-0 with only a minute and 47 seconds taken off the clock.

On the ensuing drive, the Mustang defense continued to shine, forcing a quick three-and-out that gave the ball right back to the offense with solid field position at their own 41-yard line.

In their second drive, the offense was able to pick up a pair of first downs to bring the ball all the way down to the Wildcats’ 29-yard line before a pair of incompletions brought them to a third-and-long situation.

Looking to catch the Wildcats off guard, the Mustangs ran a trick play that put the ball in the hands of wide receiver Paddy Devlin looking to make a throw to Aaron Murphy, who found himself all alone in the end zone. But the potential touchdown would fall out of Murphy’s grasp, instead bringing up a fourth down that the Mustangs were unable to convert.

Taking over at their own 29-yard line after the turnover on downs, the Wildcats began what looked to be a promising drive that would end in a score. Instead, defensive back Lucas Fisher extended the streak of early turnovers with an interception deep in the red zone, bringing the ball all the way up to the Wildcats 47-yard line for yet another opportunity in prime field position.

The Mustangs offense sputtered, however, picking up only seven yards on four plays to turn the ball over for the second consecutive possession to give the ball right back to Wayne State to take over at its own 40-yard line. From there, the Wildcats proceeded to march 60 yards in five plays for their first touchdown that knotted the game up at seven apiece and brought an end to the first quarter.

Late in the second quarter, after picking up only 19 yards in the three possessions that followed for the Mustangs offense, the Wildcats would score another touchdown but miss the extra point to make it 13-7. The Mustangs were unable to answer in the two drives that proceeded the touchdown, leading to a six-point deficit heading into halftime.

Receiving the ball to start the second half, SMSU made some playbook adjustments and saw an offensive flourish that had been absent up until that point. Starting from their own 22-yard line, the Mustangs went 78 yards in seven plays to score the go-ahead score on a 12-yard Gimbel touchdown pass to Max Simmons, putting SMSU up 14-13 to begin the second half.

“We really looked at the first half and certain run plays and pass plays that weren’t working in the first half (and) we scratched those and adjusted and went to a couple things that we didn’t quite get to in the first half,” said Sauter. “It was kind of nice for us to do what we asked them to do at halftime, and obviously anytime you can come out the second half and go right down the field and score that’s definitely a momentum builder.”

The momentum was short-lived, though, as the offensive struggles continued in the ensuing drives with lack of pass-protection preventing the offense from getting into any sort of rhythm. After giving up a pair of sacks in the first half, the offensive line surrendered a mind-boggling six sacks in the second half that made it nearly impossible to move the ball.

Building off of the success of their defensive front, the Wildcat offense was able to break through again late in the third quarter to take a 20-13 lead.

In the fourth quarter, the Mustang offense was lacking again, picking up a paltry negative six yards of total offense, and going 0 of 3 on third downs. Meanwhile, the Wildcats added a game-clinching field goal with 21 seconds left on the clock to give Wayne State the road victory.

After what will likely be a painful reminder of what transpired on Saturday during film sessions leading up to their next game on the road against Sioux Falls, Coach Sauter is hoping to put this one behind them as quickly as possible.

“It’ll be tough to watch the film and see it because I know there is going to be some things that we’re going to be scratching our head wondering what were we doing and why did we make certain things happen,” said Sauter. “It’s one of those disappointing games where we have to put it behind us as quickly as possible and just move on to the next game.”

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