Maverick football puts up a fight to win first game of the year

The No. 2 Mavericks returned to Blakeslee Stadium for the first time since December 7, 2019, where they defeated Texas A&M-Commerce to advance to the NCAA semifinals. 

It was an exhilarating game to say the least, as we saw Minnesota State put together a valiant fourth quarter comeback, which led to an overtime fourth and one touchdown to seal the deal against Northern State, 40-34.

Coming into this game, the Mavericks were forced with many questions on the offensive side of the ball. MSU lost three key positional players since the 2019 season, including running back Nate Gunn, quarterback Ryan Schlichte, who is now the Northern State quarterback coach, and wide receiver Shane Zylstra.

The Mavs came out swinging though, making a great play on the special teams kickoff to start the game, downing the Wolves at their own 17 yard line and holding them to a three and out. It got even better from there, as sophomore running back Kaleb Sleezer ripped off a 13 yard and eventual 47 yard touchdown on the Maverick’s first two offensive downs to make the game 7-0. 

Unfortunately for Minnesota State, that seemed to be the end of their dominance as they found themselves with the lead for only two minutes and six seconds for the rest of the game. The Wolves returned the favor on their next possession, led by a 57 yard catch by Dakota Larson to set up an eventual passing touchdown to Jacob Streit to tie the game 7-7. 

The rest of the first quarter played out to be a defensive masterpiece for both teams, other than a 70 yard pass from JD Ekowa to Gabe Hagen that eventually led to a missed field goal for the Mavs. Northern State ended with a strip sack and a fumble recovery heading into the second quarter, whereas Minnesota State forced four punts on three and outs in addition to their two sacks. 

Both teams converted their first drives of the second quarter into touchdowns. The Mavs ended up switching to Hayden Ekern at quarterback for their drive, which ended up to be very successful. 

Ekern threw a 71 yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Jalen Sample on the second play of their drive, to tie the game at 14. Both teams converted on field goals to end the half tied at 17.

Northern State took control of the game coming out of the break, stopping Minnesota State on their first drive of the half and scoring a 16 yard passing touchdown on their proceeding drive. The Wolves also intercepted Mavericks’ quarterback JD Ekowa on their next possession, setting themselves up for an eventual 23 yard field goal to lead 27-17 going into the fourth. 

The Mavs found themselves with a lot of work to do in the fourth quarter, and after two costly defensive penalties by the Wolves, the Mavericks cashed in a one yard QB sneak by Hayden  Ekern to make the game 24-27. Northern State proved they were not willing to give up though, striking back with a 65 yard receiving touchdown on the first play of their drive to go back up ten points to make the score 24-34. 

After making the game closer, the Mavs found themselves behind ten once again with only 12:49 left in the game. The next Mavericks possession lasted eight minutes and 12 seconds, featured by two fourth down conversions, including one quarterback to quarterback tipped pass to convert on fourth and three. 

The Mavs ended their drive with a 37 yard field goal to bring the game back within a touchdown. On the proceeding kickoff, Northern State muffed the kick in which Minnesota State recovered the ball at their 39 yard line with 4:37 left on the clock. 

JD Ekowa returned to play this series, which proved to be pivotal to the Mavs success they found throughout the drive. Ekowa converted a fourth and eight QB scramble for nine yards that ended in a two-yard QB keeper after a defensive pass interference call in the endzone to tie the game at 34 with 38 seconds left in the fourth. 

Northern State was not able to move the ball close enough for a potential game-winning field goal to end the fourth, so we headed into overtime. The Wolves got their choice at heads or tails once again as the away team, and after losing the toss, were forced to put something together on offense to start overtime as the Mavericks chose to defer. 

The Mavs were able to force a sack and an incomplete pass which inevitably ended in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Northern State’s bench. The Wolves attempted to kick a 61 yard field goal which was returned out of the end zone by the Mavericks for no points. 

Next came the Mavs turn from the 25 yard line, where they found themselves in some penalty trouble as well. Minnesota State quickly had a second and 20 that they were able to bring to a fourth and one after a six yard rush by Kaleb Sleezer and a 13 yard catch from Parker Gloudemans. 

The Mavericks ended up going for it on fourth and one as JD Ekowa broke free in pursuit for the end zone, to win the game for the Mavs 40-34. 

The name of the game; adversity. It was not the prettiest of games on both sides of the ball for the Mavs, but they got the job done in the end.

Mavericks football head coach Todd Hoffner spoke on this adversity in the post-game press conference, saying “We were able to lean on JD and Ty’Shonan… If we lose that game, we couldn’t overcome adversity, difficulties, challenges which every great team has to do. This is the first time this team has had to do that.” 

Coach Hoffner also went on to be brutally honest in explaining that he was not sure how seriously his team took Northern State. He knows this is a great Minnesota State football team and they need to be ready for every one of their opponents. 

Hoffner did want to mention, though, at the end of the game, “I thought our fans came through amazing. How loud they were and how supportive they were… that was very appreciated too.” 

Header photo by Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter.

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