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UMD’s football team has been blessed with quarterbacks who have ranged from very good to great over the last two decades. In the last couple of seasons, however, the number of capable quarterbacks has crowded the scene so much nobody has stood out above the others. But after two games this season, it appears sophomore John Larson is eager to break that pattern and become another in the line of exceptional quarterbacks.
It is difficult to visualize anyone duplicating what Larson accomplished last Saturday evening in the Bulldogs home opener against Minnesota State Moorhead at Malosky Stadium, figuring in figuring in six touchdowns. The only thing more spectacular, on Military Appreciation Night, was the opening ceremony when a pair of Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets, roared from west to east over the field.
Ironically, the UMD band was in the midst of the National Anthem, and as the jets peeled off to the north, their ear-splitting roar subsided just in time to hear “...and the home of the brave.” For the MSU Moorhead State Dragons, it might have been the highlight of the night. The Bulldogs had their own explosive show coming.
All three quarterbacks played in the 49-3 romp at Minot two weeks ago, although Larson was the most prominent. Against Moorhead, Larson, who has good size at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, took off on a quarterback draw and ran 20 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, staking UMD to a 7-0 lead.
Three minutes later, UMD faced second and 6 at its own 27. Larson dropped back to pass, got outstanding blocking that gave him time to look downfield, and launched a high, hard one. The football spiraled up into the blue sky and dropped down, beyond the Moorhead defense, and into the arms of Jason Balts, who jogged on into the end zone to complete a 73-yard touchdown pass for a 15-0 lead. Three more minutes passed and the Bulldogs were at the Dragons 32. Larson, seeming to get renewed fire with each successful drive, sent sophomore wide receiver Johnny McCormick up the left sideline and fired another pass, hitting McCormick for a 32-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Still in the first quarter, Larson’s passing attack set up the Bulldogs first and goal at the Moorhead 5, and Larson lobbed one up the left to Balts and the first quarter ended 28-0, to the delight of a big military appreciation night crowd of 5,132.
The second quarter started and MSU-Moorhead moved the ball a bit and when the drive stalled, the Dragons tried a 36-yard field goal. The kick was straight ahead and too low, and never reached the end line. The Bulldogs missed a field goal from 36 yards away, but they came right back and Larson ran and passed into position. He pitched a strike to senior Nate Ricci who carried it from the 41 to the Moorhead 5, and on the ensuing first down, Larson found Balts at the 2 and he veered into the end zone for his third touchdown of the first half and a 36-0 lead.
Larson opened the third quarter by connecting with Nate Ricci for a 15-yard touchdown, his fifth touchdown pass of the night, then gave way to Mike Rybarczyk, who passed to McCormick to make it 50-0 after three. By the time Ben Everhardt got his turn at QB, coach Curt Wiese was trying to get the Bulldogs to back off and not run up the score, and he never even threw a pass.
It ended up 60-7. Larson was named NSIC offensive player of the week and who could argue? He was 15-for-19 passing for 281 yards and five touchdowns, and rushed nine times for 90 more yards and the game’s first touchdown. That means Larson accounted for six touchdowns and 371 yards of offense.
Rybarczyk was 5-for-7 for 77 yards as backup, and ran six times for 35 yards. Wiese has a problem, because if he puts in the backup, who is almost as good as the starter, it’s hard to expect the reserve isn’t going to try to show what he can do.
The Bulldogs defense smothered Moorhead starting quarterback Bryce Meehl, who went 3-5 for 33 yards, and Jakup Sinani came in and kept battling, going 10-20 for 103 yards, including a 19-yard scoring pass to Jake Richter in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs wouldn’t even let the Dragons have that one, coming right back to get a closing touchdown from Tory Adams on a 19-yard run.
There will be tougher games in the NSIC, starting with this week’s Thursday night game at St. Cloud State. But in sports, you take credit for what you can, when you can, and UMD’s 109-10 scoring margin thus far is the most points any Bulldogs football team has ever scored in the first two games.