The Mankato football team finished the regular season going undefeated at Blakeslee Stadium to win the conference championship Saturday.
The Mavericks hosted Winona State who had the No.1 defense in the Northern Sun Intercolligant Conference. This was the deciding game for the winner of the south division and the conference championship.
Going into the game, the Warriors held teams to 16.2 points on average and specialized in stopping the rush. MSU finished the game with 40 points and 492 total yards; 292 rushing.
“There’s a three-hour window to prove you’re a better team,” Coach Todd Hoffner said. “Today we accomplished that, our players are all about competing and playing hard.”
MSU’s first drive of the game was four plays and 95 yards. It ended quickly with an explosive 70-yard touchdown run from running back Shen Butler-Lawson, scoring 7-0.
“Really, it was one of my favorite plays,” Butler-Lawson said. “I saw one linebacker and told Hayden (Ekern) that this is a touchdown.”
The half ended with Mankato scoring 31 points while Winona put up zero points. Butler-Lawson and wide receiver Nyles Williams traded scores throughout the half.
Following Butler-Lawson’s first touchdown, Hayden Ekern connected with Williams on a 43-yard dot down the field. Williams was able to run it down the sideline for another six points followed by Damian Chowaniec for an extra point.
Butler-Lawson then broke away for another touchdown, this time a 31-yard run. This concluded the first quarter.
In the second, Ekern found Williams open again, this time for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The half was finished with Chowaniec hitting a 32-yard field goal against the wind with no time remaining in the half. The half concluded at 31-0.
“If you put a play in front of these players they made it special,” Hoffner said.
Butler-Lawson touched on the importance of keeping “motivated” and not getting “too comfortable” after the one-sided first half from MSU.
“Nothing changes, I told the offensive line it’s not over until you see the double zeros hit the clock and those four quarters are over,” Butler-Lawson said. “I want the ball in my hands in big moments.”
Winona State’s first drive of the second half came off a turnover from Mankato. They were able to find the endzone for the first time in the game. The Warriors’ four-play, 28-yard drive was finished by a four-yard rushing touchdown from running back Ty Gavin.
Mankato rebounded from this and kept the momentum high with a 27-yard passing touchdown to wide receiver DJ Barber.
“Turning the ball over is never a good thing,” Hoffner said. “Our offense came back to respond, it’s a tribute to their desire to help the defense out and a fun way to say we are sorry by putting points back up on the board.”
Winona was later forced to punt the ball out of their endzone off of a bad snap. Winona’s punter kneeled the ball in the endzone resulting in a safety and two extra points for the Mavs and the ball back. That was the finishing touch on the championship win.
Mankato’s defense held Winona to 42-yards rushing. Seven tackles came from the defensive end, Grant Nagel. Defensive back Terrell Hall forced a strip sack and recovered the fumbled ball while defensive lineman Max Dahm also had a sack.
Ekern was 14 for 19 in the air and had 231 yards. He was helped by Butler-Lawson who had a career-high game with 159 yards rushing.
Mankato now heads to the playoffs hosting a familiar foe, Wayne State College. Mankato lost to them on the road previously and will play them Oct. 8 at noon.
Header Photo: The Minnesota State Football team defeated Winona State University 40-13 Saturday, Nov. 12 for the Conference Championship and South Division Champions title. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)
Write to Luke Jackson at Luke.Jackson@mnsu.edu