The No. 1 Minnesota State Mavericks have finally made it through the regular season perfect, winning on the road against the No. 13 Sioux Falls Cougars. The No. 1 Mavericks were able to win a tight game, clinching their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) title for the fourth time in nine years after the 27-23 victory.
It was the first game of the season the Mavericks were put on the ropes, with the Cougars going toe-to-toe against the class of the NSIC and taking it to the Mavericks. However, the Mavs fought through adversity to find a victory late in the fourth quarter.
Early on, defense was an important factor for both teams, with a first quarter that ended in a 3-3 affair. The Cougars were clogging the MSU running game that has been so stout to this point but still without starting running back Nate Gunn. The Sioux Falls defensive front held the Mavericks to their lowest total on the season with only 124 rushing yards. The key was getting to the backfield, racking up seven tackles for loss along with six sacks. The Cougars did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, getting to lead running back Justin Taormina, who was held to 51 yards on 15 carries.
In the second quarter of play, Minnesota State took an early lead, with a Cade Johnson interception setting up a field goal by Casey Bednarski to go up 6-3, with the Cougars coming back strong to score the first touchdown and reclaim the lead, 10-6. The Mavericks came down the field before the half with a 32-yard score to Nyles Williams from quarterback Ryan Schlichte to take a 13-10 lead. Despite a tight opening half, the turnover and late touchdown looked to put the Mavericks back to their winning ways.
However, in the third quarter, the Cougars came out strong and put 10 points up on the Mavericks. Ty Smith caught the second touchdown from Cougars quarterback Ian Fieber, who finished with 225 yards and two scores in a strong showing against the tough Maverick defense. The Cougars looked to have the No.1 team on the ropes, with four sacks on starting quarterback Schlichte and Cougars running back Jason Towns rumbled for 143 yards in the performance.
But the Mavericks defense refused to give up the game, forcing two fumbles in the fourth quarter and grabbing another interception. After another field goal from the Cougars, the Mavericks trailed 23-13. Johnson grabbed his second turnover, which led to a 61-yard pass to Shane Zylstra from Schlichte to bring the score to within one possession at 23-20. Minnesota State certainly had their backs against the wall, as the Cougars offense had the ball with less than two minutes remaining. After a forced three-and-out by the Maverick defense, Sioux Falls was forced to punt.
The snap was botched, and Lukas Burrington recovered the fumble to set up another touchdown pass to Zylstra for a Mavericks 27-23 lead. A final turnover, an interception from Curtis Jack, sealed the victory for the Mavericks.
Despite the offense only tallying 270 total yards, the turnover ratio was 4:1 in favor of MSU, lifting the Mavs over the Cougars. Schlichte finished the game with his third three-touchdown game this season and 147 passing yards. Zylstra led receivers with 102 yards and two scores on five receptions. The defense was led in tackling by Jerry Nash III, who racked up 11 while Evan Perrizo had two sacks and tackles for loss each.
The win also grabbed the Mavericks a second seed in the Central Region, which will give them a home playoff game on Nov. 18 against Colorado State University- Pueblo. The season marks quite the bounce back after last year’s 8-3 mark, with the team going perfect for the third time since joining the NSIC since 2008.