The Minnesota State Mavericks football team finished up their 2016 campaign with a win over the Upper Iowa Peacocks 33-23 at Blakeslee Stadium last Saturday afternoon. This victory brought their record to 8-3 (5-2 NSIC South) overall. They finished tied for third in the conference with three other teams. MNSU, Winona State, Bemidji State, and Augustana all finished with an 8-3 overall record while also going 5-2 in their respective division.
The Peacocks outgained the Mavericks in total offensive yards with 435 compared to 393. MNSU had 329 passing yards in the game and 64 rushing yards to go along with it. Upper Iowa had 317 yards through the air and ran the ball a little bit better with 118 rushing yards.
Senior quarterback Nicholas Pieruccini was the player of the game, as he led the game with 318 passing yards and four touchdowns on 27 completions. He also added 20 rushing yards in the game. Senior running back Virgil Hammond led the Mavs with 31 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Pieruccini shared the wealth with his receivers. Eight players recorded at least two catches for the Mavericks. Freshman Justin Arnold led the way with six catches for 82 yards. Other notable performances were senior Connor McKeen and junior Ty Dennis as they each had four catches and a touchdown a piece.
Senior linebacker Ruben Ibarra led the team in tackles with nine. Junior Zachary Dodge has progressed into a force on the defense later on this season as he had another multiple sack game. The two he notched against Upper Iowa put him at 8.5 total sacks in the season.
The first possession for the Mavericks was a success as it was finished off with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Pieruccini to McKeen. Following the missed extra point, the Mavericks obtained an early 6-0 lead. The Peacocks answered right back on the next possession. They capped off an 11 play, 73-yard drive with a six-yard run from senior quarterback Dmitri Morales. That touchdown and made extra point gave Upper Iowa the 7-6 lead with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
The next score came from the Mavericks late in the second quarter. They were able to finish a seven play, 80-yard drive in 52 seconds. Pieruccini found Dennis from six yards out, giving the Mavericks a 13-7 lead with 12 seconds left in the half.
Early in the third quarter, the Mavericks scored again. This time, Pieruccini found senior wide out Taylor Johnson from four yards away. That touchdown gave the Mavericks a 20-7 lead with eleven minutes left in the third quarter. On the next possession, Upper Iowa cut the deficit down. Sophomore running back Derrick Portis scored from the one-yard line, narrowing the Mavericks lead 20-14.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were able to capitalize on an interception. Hammond found the end zone from seven-yards out. Following another missed extra point, the lead was extended to 26-14. The Peacocks scored on the next possession. After an eight play, 66-yard drive, Morales threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Portis, cutting the lead down 26-21 with ten minutes left in the game.
The Mavericks then went on a long, 10-play 65-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Pieruccini threw a touchdown pass to junior Erik Fuller from nine-yards away making the score 33-21. Upper Iowa did not do themselves any favors on the next possession. Morales threw an interception on the first play of the drive, giving the Mavericks the ball back with five minutes left in the game. Following a three-and-out, the Peacocks had their last chance, but failed to convert on fourth down with 1:47 left in the game.
MNSU was able to finish out the game with possession of the ball, however, it ended a little differently than usual. The Mavericks surrendered a safety on the last play of the game. Pieruccini explained why they chose to do that.
“There was 17 seconds left on the clock and we didn’t want to punt, so then I just ran around until time expired and took a safety,” Pieruccini said.
This game marks the end of the 2016 season. The Mavericks will now spend the next several months working towards the 2017 season.