It was a valiant effort for the Mavericks on Saturday, but they ultimately fell to the fourth ranked Sioux Falls Cougars 24-14. The Cougars showed why they are one of the best teams in the country, by running the football at will and putting pressure on the opposing quarterback all game long.
What may be the most glaring stat of the game was the fact the Mavericks were out-rushed 346 to 88 yards. USF’s running back Max Mickey led the Cougar rushing attack with 165 yards. Quarterback Luke Papillion added 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground as well. With the Cougars’ success running the ball, it also gave them an advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for over 38 minutes in the game compared to MNSU’s 21:30. Sioux Falls’ offense managed to keep their defense off the field, minimizing the Mavericks’ chances of scoring.
However, the Mavericks did have some success passing the ball against Sioux Falls’ defense. Senior quarterbacks Nicholas Pieruccini and Ricky Lloyd shared snaps in the game and combined for 225 yards and two touchdowns on 17 completions.
The Maverick receiving corps was led by redshirt freshman Shane Zylstra, as he caught three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Junior Ty Dennis and senior Brent Esser each hauled in five catches for 48 and 45 yards, respectively. Senior wide receiver Taylor Johnson also got in on the action, as he recorded a catch that went for a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Brendan Chrystal led the Maverick defense with thirteen tackles. Senior safety Mat Andriano was making plays all over the field as well and had ten tackles himself. Junior defensive end Evan Perrizo recorded eight tackles and one and a half sacks in the game as well.
It seemed as though the Mavericks started off the game with more determination and passion. USF started the game with the ball and threw an interception on the second play of the game. The Mavericks then marched down the field and scored on a twenty-yard pass from Lloyd to Zylstra. The Mavs would hold the upper hand early on, 7-0.
The hot start gave the MNSU defense momentum as they kept the Cougars scoreless in the first quarter. Later in the second quarter, following a missed field goal from the Mavericks, USF got on the board and made a field goal with a little over four minutes left in the half. That missed field may have been the momentum swing the Cougars were waiting for all game.
Then momentum continued to shift in favor of Sioux Falls after a three-and-out from the Mavericks on the next possession. The Cougars went on a long, methodical drive and scored their first touchdown by way of a four-yard run by Papillion. With twenty seconds left in the half, the score was 10-7 Cougars.
On the third drive in the second half, Pieruccini was picked off by USF’s Jeffery Harman, giving the Cougars possession with great field position. Taking advantage of the turnover, Papillion threw to senior Josh Angulo for a touchdown four plays later. Momentum had officially shifted permanently to the Cougars.
USF scored on their next drive following a Maverick punt. Papillion had an impressive 25-yard scramble to the end-zone, extending their lead 24-7 with 1:55 left in the third quarter.
The Mavericks were able to cut the deficit down with a 22-yard strike from Pieruccini to Johnson with eight minutes left in the game. MNSU’s defense then made a defiant stand the next drive and stopped the Cougars on fourth down with 2:23 left in the game. However, it was all for naught, as Pieruccini was sacked and fumbled on the next drive. The Cougars sealed the victory at 24-14, making them 9-0 on the season.
“We just didn’t quite execute at the level we needed to,” Pieruccini said. “We were able to get some stuff going, but then have a slip up that would set us back and force us to give up the ball. We needed to be locked in on every down and make every play count, especially against a defense like USF. We just weren’t able to do so today.”
With the loss, the Mavericks fall to 6-3 (3-2 NSIC South). Their season continues as they head to Wayne, Nebraska on Saturday, November 5 to face the Wildcats of Wayne State College. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.