UMD Sneaks to Football Playoff Victory

John Gilbert

Big plays and high drama were the order of the day when UMD defeated Saginaw Valley State University 30-27 in their Division II NCAA playoff game last Saturday. But after three hours of high-pressure football, the biggest plays included a vehement complaint by UMD coach Bob Nielson, and a quarterback sneak by Chase Vogler.

Saginaw Valley had solved the stout UMD defense for enough big plays to reverse a 17-7 halftime deficit and force overtime on a game-ending field goal at 24-all. The Cardinals learned they couldn’t run the ball against the Bulldogs early, when snow flurries were swirling around Malosky Stadium. “They were a tough team to run against,” said Cardinals coach Jim Collins, “so we went to Plan B, which was to throw it more. Jon and Jeff made it work.”

Jon is sophomore quarterback Jon Jennings, and Jeff is sophomore wide receiver Jeff Janis. Football tradition says you try to establish the run in order to set up the pass, but Saginaw State tried a couple long passes to loosen up the UMD defense, then deployed Janis across the middle just a few yards down field. Jennings connected with Janis for three touchdowns against the stunned Bulldogs.

After Vogler’s opening touchdown, Jennings hit Janis, who turned it into a 76-yard touchdown and a 7-7 tie in the second quarter. Still, leading rusher Zach Hulce scored his first of two touchdowns, and David Nadeau’s field goal made it 17-7 UMD at halftime. On Saginaw’s first drive of the second half, Janis sprinted deep, down the middle, and was wide open for a Jennings pass into the wind that settled effortlessly toward Janis’s gloved hands. But he couldn't quite grasp the ball and it fell to the frozen turf. They wound up exchanging punts, but then, on third and 10, Janis clicked with Jennings again, and he dashed for a 65-yard touchdown to cut UMD’s lead to 17-14.

Janis took the Cardinals 80 yards in five plays in the fourth quarter, clicking 4-for-4 passing on the drive, including a 43-yarder to running back Ronnie Lark to set up a 22-yard touchdown pass to Janis, and Saginaw State suddenly led 21-17. The pressure was on, and Vogler and the Bulldogs responded with a 64-yard drive in 11 plays, climaxed by Voigler's 17-yard pass to Hulce on third and 10 from the 39, then Hulce’s 22-yard run up the right sideline to score and recapture the lead at 24-21.

A potential game-winning drive by Saginaw State reached the UMD 6, but the defense stiffened, and time was running out, so Scott Stanford kicked a tying 21-yard field goal to force overtime, where each team gets a turn with possession from the other’s 25 yard line. Jennings hit Janis for 11 yards on the left sideline to the UMD 14, after a second Saginaw receiver threw an impressive block to free up Janis. It was then that coach Nielson expressed himself, eloquently but forcefully -- that such blocks cannot be allowed in college football, and that at such a crucial time in such a big game, such an infraction simply had to be called. The sideline official gestured to Nielson that he had made his point, and standing nearby, I read the gesture to be a virtual acknowledgment that the officials had missed one. Some coaches gripe and complain all the time. Nielson doesn't, which makes his occasional outbursts valid.

Nevertheless, it was first down at the 14. On third down, Jennings went back to the left sideline, throwing to Gallina. Mark Thrash, another Saginaw receiver, was in the vicinity and delivered a bump to allow Gallina to catch the pass and barge into the end zone. But wait...a flag! Sure enough, the illegal pick was called as pass interference on Thrash, so instead of a touchdown, the Cardinals got a 15-yard penalty. It wasn’t payback as much as it was being snapped to full alertness on a subfreezing afternoon. But without Nielson’s forceful but respectful protest, we can bet the ensuing call would not have been made. At third and 21 from the 25, Jennings threw incomplete, with Cody Eich breaking it up, leaving Sanford to boot a 42-yard field goal. Instead of a touchdown, Saginaw’s lead was only 27-24.

On UMD’s turn, Vogler found freshman Aaron Roth for a 23-yard gain to the one, on what Vogler said was his third read on the play. On first and goal from the one, Nielson made the call and Vogler seconded the motion. Earlier in the game, Vogler executed quarterback sneaks on fourth down plays to keep drives alive on all three of UMD’s regulation touchdown marches. So with the game on the line, and the ball at the one, Nielson again put his faith in center Eli Kelley and guards Garth Heikkinen and Francis Herzog. Kelley snapped the ball, the lines clashed, and Vogler lunged into the end zone.

“I don’t have much to do on those plays,” Vogler said. “Take the snap and go forward. Our guards and center do all the work.”

If being tournament-hardened is an advantage, the UMD football team used a large dose of it to defeat Saginaw Valley State. And they’ll need another dose of it this weekend, when they travel to Pueblo, Colo., to face top-seeded and undefeated Colorado State-Pueblo on Saturday. It’s playoff time, and the Bulldogs are hot. What else is new?

GET READY FOR A TITLE RUN

Hockey fans may not be mentally prepared for it yet, but the Bulldogs are on course to make a serious run at the WCHA championship. Minnesota is still flying high, although the 6-0 Gopher start has leveled off a bit to 8-2. But here come the Bulldogs, raising their unbeaten streak to 10 games (8-0-2), and their WCHA record to 7-2-1 -- one point behind the Gophers. Mostly because UMD opened the season by getting swept at Amsoil Arena by Minnesota, the Bulldogs are in the rare position of being defending NCAA champions and yet able to sneak up on opponents.

“I still don’t feel we get the respect we deserve,” said goaltender Kenny Reiter, after the Bulldogs swept Minnesota State-Mankato 5-2, 7-3 last weekend.

Reiter blanked the Mavericks through the first two periods in the first game, including the first, when Mankato had a 21-9 edge in shots but UMD led 1-0 on Caleb Herbert’s first of two goals. J.T. Brown’s goal, between Herbert’s two, made it 3-0 after two periods, and Jack Connolly and Travis Oleksuk scored close-order goals in the third period to offset a couple Maverick goals.

In the second game, it was scoreless after one period, but Justin Crandall and Brown scored 17 seconds apart at 1:40 and 1:57 of the second, then Herbert deflected in Scott Kishel’s shot at 2:58, and Joe Basaraba banged in Mike Seidel’s rebound at 3:16. Four goals, on UMD’s first four shots of the period, in a burst of 1:36. In the third period, Connolly, Jake Hendrickson and Brady Lamb added goals, meaning seven different scorers got the seven goals. How's that for balance?

BEMIDJI STATE SURPRISES UMD

Bemidji State women’s coach Steve Sertich watched his Beavers fall 4-1 against UMD in the first game of their series on Saturday, and he got to Amsoil Arena early enough Sunday to walk around the concourse before the second game. “I saw the picture of John Mariucci in the Hall of Fame,” Sertich said, “and I wondered how proud John would be of our team.”

Mariucci, the Godfather of Minnesota Hockey, laid his name and his career on the line for the benefit of college hockey teams developing homestate Minnesota players. Steve Sertich was one of them, a speedy scorer at Virginia High School and at Colorado College. After successful runs coaching Roseville boys and girls teams, he has done a fantastic job of building Bemidji State into an upper division challenger in the WCHA. They earlier beat Minnesota for a split, and they pulled off the split with UMD to stand 5-4-1 in the WCHA, above UMD’s sputtering 2-5-1.

“And we’re doing it with a lot of Minnesota kids,” Sertich added, proudly. “We have more Minnesota players than UMD, and maybe more than Minnesota. We’re not kidding anyone, when you play a team like UMD you have to have your A-game going. We didn’t have it in the first game, but today we did. We five Northern Minnesota girls on our power play -- Sadie Lundquist from Cloquet, Emily Erickson from Coleraine, Montana Vichorek from Moose Lake, and the Wheelhouse sisters, Erika and Marlee, from Crookston.”

Lindquist and Erickson are on the first line, while other Minnesotans in Bemidji’s lineup include the whole second line, with Abby Williams of Alexandria centering Lauren Williams of Eagan and Kristi King of Stillwater, plus fourth-liners Molly Arola and Danielle Williams. Defenseman Kimberly Lieder of Eagan joins Vichorek and the Wheelhouse sisters, while backup goaltender Jessica Havel is from Grand Rapids, making it 12 homestate players.

“Bemidji works so hard and they have such a disciplined team,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller. “I’ve always told our players that it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you don’t match the other team’s work ethic, you’re in trouble.   It looked like some of our players played like we were sure we would win, especially our first line. Their first line scored three goals in this game.”