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If a football game can be a nightmare, then the UMD Bulldogs are in dire need of a wake-up call. The Bulldogs win the North Division of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with something approaching boring regularity, but they have now taken on a new tradition, where it seems that the mere mention of playing a team from the South Division causes the Bulldogs to play as though they’ve never been introduced.
A team from Upper Iowa, called the Peacocks, and wearing uniforms that are the prettiest shade of Peacock blue, plays in the South Division of the NSIC, where teams such as Minnesota State-Mankato and Sioux Falls also reside. Those two teams had both inflicted nasty setbacks on UMD — Mankato by 52-7, and Sioux Falls by 34-3. Those are perennially tough teams.
But Upper Iowa had never beaten UMD in football. Never. And last Saturday, while the Bulldogs could once again say that star quarterback John Larson remained sidelined by injury, that fails to excuse the embarrassing amount of misplays and mistakes that plagued the Bulldogs all afternoon. And what an afternoon it was! Bright sunshine, and a stiff wind, but it was blowing from south to north — sideline to sideline — without favoring either end.
And yet Upper Iowa defeated UMD 33-23, playing with increasing confidence every time the Bulldogs turned the ball over or committed an absurd penalty at the wrong time.
The best example came early in the third quarter. First, though, UMD struck for an early field goal to start the second quarter, but soon suffered a blocked punt that led to an Upper Iowa touchdown and a 7-3 Peacocks lead. UMD regained the lead, narrowly, at 10-7 by halftime, although the half ended when Daniel Ruffin Jr. intercepted an attempted UMD touchdown pass in the end zone.
But in the third quarter, Peacocks quarterback, freshman Zach Reader, sent Alexander Stevens deep up the left sideline and fired a pass for him. UMD defensive back Justic’e King, tangled with him just enough to cause an incompletion — and a pass interference penalty. On the next play, Stevens ran exactly the same route, and Reader fired the pass a bit higher and a bit longer, and King couldn’t reach him on what resulted in a 26-yard touchdown pass for a 14-10 Upper Iowa lead.
“It was supposed to be a run,” said Reader. “But I saw they were going to have 1-on-1 coverage again, so I changed the play to the same play again.”
UMD got a field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 14-13, but the Peacocks countered with a field goal for a 17-13 lead, but it still looked like the Bulldogs would pull out a mistake-filled victory until C.J. Scott snatched the third of four Peacocks interceptions, and he returned this one 45 yards up the right sideline to secure the 23-13 lead with 1:39 to play.
UMD coach Curt Wiese alternated his two backup quarterbacks, Garrett Olson and Keagan Calchera, letting each direct a full series in alternating fashion. All it did in this case was prove how badly UMD needs John Larson to get healthy and return to the lineup. Four interceptions, two lost fumbles, and 12 penalties for 210 yards — including two roughing the kicker penalties that gave the Peacocks first downs instead of giving up the ball.
I asked Reader if he had ever seen a Peacock around the Upper Iowa campus, and he laughed and said no. I asked him how they could make the Peacock seem fearsome, and he said, “I’ll bet people in Duluth will realize Peacocks are dangerous, from now on.”
Maybe Larson will be back Saturday, against Minnesota State - Crookston at 1 p.m. at Malosky Stadium, UMD’s final home game of the season. While the loss leaves the Bulldogs 1-3 against South Division teams, they remain 4-0 atop the North Division.
UMD VOLLEYBALL RISES
After beating Sioux Falls in a 3-game sweep Friday, the UMD women’s volleyball team appeared to have fallen into the same Saturday malaise as the football team when, following the football loss, the volleyball team lost 25-18 to Southwest Minnesota State at Romano Gym. In Game 2, the Bulldogs played better, but Southwest Minnesota State won 25-22 to take the closest thing to a stranglehold on the best-of-five match.
But in Game 3, the Bulldogs hit their stride and ran up to an 11-1 lead, finishing off a 25-13 victory. In the hotly competitive Game 4, the Bulldogs again led early at 6-1, but Southwest rallied to catch up and they battled evenly until it was 22-22. Finally, UMD came through, winning 25-23 to even the match at two apiece. In the deciding Game 5, UMD jumped to a 5-1 lead, increased it to 8-2 and 10-4, and won 15-5 to claim the match 3-2.
Kate Berg led UMD with 15 kills — several of them change-ups when Southwest blockers set up well in front of her — and Abby Thor added 12, Lei Langenfeld 10 and Hanna Meyer 9 in a balanced attack. The Bulldogs had their hands full containing Jenna Walczak, who had 18 kills, and Angela Young, who delivered 16 for the Mustangs.
“We switched up our rotation to get different match-ups after the first two games,” said UMD coach Jim Boos. “Southwest plays us with energy and passion every time, and we needed to change something. I put Lexi Langenfeld in at middle blocker and she sparked us. Then we got it together for the fifth set, when we had six kills and no errors — no mistakes. That’s after we had five kills and six errors in the first set.”
The victories boosted UMD to 18-2 overall, and 11-1 in the Northern Sun.