Bulldogs stay unbeaten, face Bemidji

John Gilbert

UMD quarterback tried to surprise St. Cloud State’s defense on the first play of the game...
UMD quarterback tried to surprise St. Cloud State’s defense on the first play of the game...
...but the surprise was to UMD, as Payton Conrad intercepted the pass, setting up a  defensive struggle. Photo credit: John Gilbert
...but the surprise was to UMD, as Payton Conrad intercepted the pass, setting up a defensive struggle. Photo credit: John Gilbert

If the UMD football team is going to carry on and win the Northern half of the NSIC, they may look back at their 20-14 struggle to beat St. Cloud State on, appropriately, Military Appreciation Night at Malosky Stadium.

Well that, and this Saturday’s game at Bemidji State. The NSIC had become pretty predictable, in recent years, with the top teams either winning by rout or battling to the finish against equal teams, which were few and far between. But this year has a different

feel. St. Cloud State came to Duluth with an identical 2-0 record to the Bulldogs, and for an hour it looked like the game itself was in need of the retired visiting four-star general Joe Votel to intervene.

The pregame ceremony, let alone the game, was delayed for nearly an hour by a thunderstorm that didn’t intend to rain all that much but delivered enough serious bolts of lightning to cause the announcement to report to the cars in the parking lot, which is football-se for “take cover!”

When the game finally started, UMD quarterback John Larson, who has come to be depended on to calmly lead the Bulldogs to victories every weekend, dropped back on the first play of the game and launched a high, hard one. But instead of jolting the Huskies defense, St. Cloud defensive back Payton Conrad instead put a jolt through the UMD crowd by going up for an interception.

The teams battled back and forth in pretty much of a punt exchange through the first quarter and into the second, before Larson got it right — mostly running himself to get the Bulldogs down close, and then connecting with Kurtis Weigand from the 2, and the Bulldogs had taken a hard-earned 7-0 lead.

The anticipated free-flowing offense never did happen, and UMD’s only other first-half score came when freshman Dan Branger drilled a 27-yard field goal to make it 10-0 at halftime.

UMD senior Dan Branger calmly hammered a 27-yard field goal for a 10-0  halftime lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD senior Dan Branger calmly hammered a 27-yard field goal for a 10-0 halftime lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Barry Moreland showed why the UMD defense is good enough to win, upending  Curtwan Evans at the sideline. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Barry Moreland showed why the UMD defense is good enough to win, upending Curtwan Evans at the sideline. Photo credit: John Gilbert

With Larson connecting on only 13 of 33 pass attempts, he simply turned to calling his own number and rushing for enough yardage to apparently put the game safely out of reach. But St. Cloud State’s senior quarterback Dwayne Lawhorn hit two touchdown passes in the second half, and the Huskies closed the gap to 20-14. The Bulldogs had to run out the clock at the finish to secure the victory.

And this weekend provides no rest, because the trip up Hwy. 2 finds the Bemidji State Beavers waiting with a 3-0 record, same as UMD.

Meanwhile, out at Public Schools Stadium, St. Scholastica’s game with Crown also was delayed a couple times by lighting strikes in the area, but when that one started, there were some offensive fireworks. The unbeaten Saints (3-0) marched behind Zach Edwards’s touchdown passes to score two TDs in the first and two more in the second quarters.

Edwards hit Eddie Lee and Mitchell Adrian — his two most prolific receivers — with two touchdown passes each, and went 19-41 for 231 yards.

Crown, however, turned Jared Gilmore loose in the second half, and he fired four touchdown passes, three to Janaire Smith, closing the gap by outscoring the Saints 21-7 in the second half. Gilmore was 22-41 for 216 yards and workhorse Avery Caruthers gained 178 yards on 29 carries.

College football had an enormous day all over the country on Saturday, with Wisconsin stunning Michigan 35-14, building a 28-0 halftime lead at Madison.

But the game of the day happened late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, whenever it was that the UCLA game at Washington State ended.

Washington State, heavily favored against winless UCLA, which has played close but unsuccessfully under coach Chip Kelly through nonconference play, and the Cougars. The Pac-12 is built for speed and imaginative offenses, and for being almost completely ignored by the national rankings. This was the conference opener for both teams.

Best part of the Pac-12 is they always have a couple games starting at 9:30 p.m. or so, and you can catch them on ESPN after you’ve been out at a UMD game or a movie. This time, Washington State roared ahead 21-10 in the second quarter, but UCLA’s Demetric Felton ran the kickoff back 100 yards to cut it to 21-17, Washington State’s Anthony

Gordon threw two touchdown passes and it was 35-17 at halftime.

Two more passing touchdowns in the third quarter lifted the Cougars to a 49-17 lead in the third quarter. But Kelly, ever the optimist, seems to have finally gotten some of that into his players’ heads, and the comeback of the year started to roll. Trailing by 32, the Bruins came  roaring back, scoring touchdowns on four conseucutive drives, including  94 yard pass play from Dorian Thompson-Robinson to Felton.

Washington State kept countering, but fewer and fewer times, gaining a 49-38 lead that was cut to 49-46, and then an incredible finish.

UCLA actually caught up and took the lead at 61-56, but Washington State got a big touchdown back and wrested a 63-61 lead. I was so tired, I couldn’t see straight, but I stood there, teetering, in front of my big-screen, unable to turn it off or turn away. Sure enough, the Bruins came back for a desperation fourth-down play, and Thompson-Robinson found Felton for a 15-yard touchdown pass. And UCLA won the game 67-63.

Gordon was 41-61 for 570 yards and the school record 9 touchdowns and a 187.8 passer rating for Washington State, while Thompson-Robinson was 25-38 for 507 yards and “only” 5 touchdowns — and a 216 passer rating. Finally, I could go to bed, exhausted.