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In a way, it was the perfect season-opening football game for the UMD Bulldogs. First, they won, and won big, thrashing Minot State 52-7; second, they flexed their depth behind junior quarterback John Larson; third, they got through it without any major injuries; and fourth, they proved gracious hosts by sending the Minot State Beavers on their long busride home knowing they made ESPN’s plays of the day with the game’s most spectacular touchdown.
Larson, coming off a season-ending injury that cost him the strong finish UMD needed last season, showed no ill effects as he went 16-28 passing for three touchdowns and 279 yards, and he added 77 yards rushing. He hit 13 of 25 in the first half alone, when the Bulldogs raced to leads of 15-0 and 28-7.
Incoming transfer Quincy Woods made his presence felt with two big touchdown receptions, making a diving catch of a 38-yard pass from Larson to make it 21-7 in the second quarter, and adding a 50-yarder from Larson that boosted the score to 45-7 in the second half.
Woods’s first touchdown catch was important, because UMD had just been jolted out of any complacency by the Beavers, who scored a spectacular touchdown to cut into a 15-0 UMD start in the first quarter. Larson had made a 25-yard run to get the ball deep into Minot territory, then he passed to Zach Ojile for the final 8 yards up the right sideline.
The defensive play of the game came next, when Minot appeared to be marching right back down the field fo the early equalizer. The UMD defense stiffened, and when Minot chose to settle for a JoseLuis Moreno field goal, Justic’e King dashed in from the left end and made a diving block of Moreno’s kick, with UMD recovering to march in for Wade Sullivan’s first of two touchdown runs, this one when he circled left end and beat the cornerback with a dive to the pylon for a 15-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Minot freshman Cory Carignan went back to his 3 to field it, but he muffed it, and the ball squirted behind him and rolled halfway through the end zone. Carignan hustled back and made what appeared to be a bad decision, scooping it up and starting to try to escape the end zone. By starting to run, he had established that he would be giving up a safety instead of the comfort of a touchback, and the UMD coverage team stormed into the end zone after him.
As Carignan started running to his right, there was a point where UMD had eight members of its kick-coverage unit in the Minot end zone, along with a half-dozen Beavers, who might have been wondering what Carignan was up to. He darted to his right, and made it out of the end zone, against heavy odds, and when he got to the 5, he made a quick cutback and bolted out of danger, then veered to the right sideline and went all the way — 104 yards for a touchdown.
There was, however, a flag on the play, back on the UMD 25, and even UMD boosters had to feel sympathy for the visiting Beavers, whose one flash of glory appeared about to be erased by a penalty. After discussion, though, the penalty was on UMD, the touchdown stood, and ESPN got a rare Division II big-play event for its nightly review of the top plays in the country.
What looked like a romp had become a 15-7 game, and the Bulldogs realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as it had looked. That’s when Larson put things back in order, dropping back and launching a high, hard one that sailed up and over the final 38 yards and was snagged by a diving Quincy Woods for a touchdown and a 21-7 cushion.
Before the half ended, Cazz Martin slashed in for another touchdown and a 28-7 lead at halftime. The second half started, and Wade Sullivan broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run, and when sophomore Austin Kurylo intercepted a Ben Belinske pass, Larson hooked up with Woods again for a 50-yard score.
The defense was outstanding all game, which made it fitting that along with the blocked field goal and the interceptions, sophomore Eric Scnmitz made an interception at midfield and ran it in 50 yards for the final touchdown.
The Bulldogs, who had reason to be apprehensive going into the opener because earlier in the week it had been announced that ace receiver Johnny McCormick had been injured in training camp and would miss the entire season. The big victory will send the Bulldogs off for Minnesota State-Moorhead this weekend, then they return home to face St. Cloud State, as the games get progressively tougher in the Northern Sun.