UMD fulfills its part of state football upsurge

John Gilbert

UMD's Wade Sullivan scored two touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a tough 21-7 victory over Wayne State. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Wade Sullivan scored two touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a tough 21-7 victory over Wayne State. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Wayne State freshman quarterback Tavian Willis faked out the entire UMD defense to score from the 2 on a sprintout for a 7-7 halftime tie. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Wayne State freshman quarterback Tavian Willis faked out the entire UMD defense to score from the 2 on a sprintout for a 7-7 halftime tie. Photo credit: John Gilbert

By the standards established by the Vikings and the Gophers football victories last weekend, UMD’s homecoming victory was pretty modest. But the Bulldogs had a lot of challenges to overcome before pulling away to beat Wayne State 21-7 at drizzly, windy Malosky Stadium.

First of all, for three years now, UMD fans have grown accustomed to watching quarterback John Larson leading the way for the Bulldogs with his passing and running. But along with losing in blowout fashion at
Minnesota State-Mankato the previous weekend, the Bulldogs also lost Larson when he was knocked out of the game. Still, he was listed as the starting quarterback on the team’s two-deep lineup chart.

But his injured shoulder wasn’t ready to go, so Larson was held out of the homecoming battle. Coach Curt Wiese played both sophomore Garrett Olson and freshman Keagan Calchera in his place, and they both did
capable jobs as the Bulldogs got back on track to win the North Division of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Mankato appears heading for another South Division title.

Alternating UMD quarterback Garrett OIson pitched the ball over the Wayne State defense for the end zone... Photo credit: John Gilbert
Alternating UMD quarterback Garrett OIson pitched the ball over the Wayne State defense for the end zone... Photo credit: John Gilbert
 ...Freshman Byron Bynum (29) accepted the accolades of his teammates after catching Olson's pass for the go-ahead touchdown in UMD's 21-7 homecoming victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert
...Freshman Byron Bynum (29) accepted the accolades of his teammates after catching Olson's pass for the go-ahead touchdown in UMD's 21-7 homecoming victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert

But in order to win the North, the Bulldogs can’t afford another slip, if they have any hopes of advancing to the playoffs.

With the rainy weather and temperature, generously announced as in the “high 30s,” restricting the crowd, the teams played a scoreless first quarter, before sophomore running back Wade Sullivan scored on a 4-yard run — his first of two short touchdown runs.

But Wayne State came back, perhaps energized by the fact they weren’t getting steamrolled by an explosive UMD attack. The Wildcats moved in late in the second quarter, and tied the game when freshman
quarterback Tavian Willis pulled off a slick play for a touchdown from the 2 with just 3 seconds left until halftime.

After reaching the 2, Willis lined up under center and everybody anticipated a short plunge. But Willis executed an impressive fake handoff so well the Bulldog defense bunched up in the middle, and Willis was able to sprint untouched around right end for the tying touchdown.

Allowing Wayne State to stay close meant the Wildcats believed they could pull off the upset, and they battled the Bulldogs through a scoreless third quarter to leave the teams 7-7 going into the fourth quarter. Wiese’s plan of letting the two quarterbacks alternate playing a full series resulted in Garrett Olson calling signals at the

Wayne 9 yard line, and he sent Byron Bynum up the left sideline and launched a pass over the rushing defenders. Bynum made a nifty move to duck under the arm of a defender and snatch the pass at the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.

Sullivan’s second touchdown, on a 5-yard run, clinched the 21-7 victory.

Olson finished 8-9 passing fir 48 yards and the keys touchdown, while Calchera was 5-10 for 52 yards. Wiese kept the play calls simple, and both QBs gained valuable defense, but Larson will probably be back in harness when the Bulldogs play at Sioux Falls this Saturday.

The Gophers won again, and have a chance to stay undefeated in their next two games, against Big Ten bottom feeders Maryland and Rutgers before they run into big challenges from the likes of Penn State. But one thing about winning is it inspires more winning, and coach PJ Fleck is carrying out what he said he’d do, cynics notwithstanding.

The Vikings, meanwhile, surprised many by beating the Philadelphia Eagles with Carson Wendt at full strength. That’s because much-maligned quarterback Kirk Cousins played a fantastic game — his best as a Viking. He hit Adam Thielen for a couple of spectacular pass plays, and then hit Stefon Diggs for three touchdowns and a 38-20 victory. Cousins was 22-29 and the Vikings looked good.

Meanwhile, you have to admire the Washington Nationals, who have given the nation’s capitol its first World Series since 1933. The Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals behind the fabulous pitching of Adam
Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez and Patrick Corbin to sweep heavy favored St. Louis and win the National League playoffs.

Before the playoffs started, my hope was — if the Twins didn’t win — to see Houston face Washington in the World Series. I just want to see Scherzer against Justin Verlander, Strasburg against Gerrit Cole, and
Sanchez or Corbin against Zack Greinke. It could be the best-pitched World Series ever! And the Astros have taken the upper hand against the New York Yankees, if they can keep it up.