The No. 4-ranked Mavericks football team faced its biggest challenge of the season Saturday as it took on the No. 9-ranked Bemidji State Beavers.
It felt like a 2022 Minnesota Vikings game with the way the anticipation grew as the game continued. It took until the final minute of the game for the Mavs to clearly see their path to victory as the Mavs’ Dakota Smith blocked the potential game-tying field goal for the Beavers.
The Mavs lead the NSIC in blocked kicks, and the often-forgotten stat proved to be the difference in the game. They say “good teams always find a way to win,” and the best team on the field Saturday found their way to move to 5-0. The Beavers now fall to 4-1 with the loss.
“The game-winning blocked field goal by Dakota Smith was an outstanding way to finish the game,” said head coach Todd Hoffner in a press release posted to the Maverick Athletics website.
But to begin the game, the Mavs got off to a less-than-ideal start. Their offense was solid, putting together a six-play, 64-yard drive that stalled in the red zone, forcing a field goal attempt. Unfortunately, Matthew Jaeger’s kick was no good, and the Beavers took over on downs.
Taking over with 9:28 remaining in the first quarter, the Beavers put together the first scoring drive of the afternoon. Their 11-play, 73-yard drive was aided by a personal foul penalty committed by the Mavs as they eventually put the ball in the end zone on a two yard pass from quarterback Sam McGath to wide receiver Dhel Duncan-Busby.
The Mavs would answer back on their next possession, as running back Shen Butler-Lawson proved why he is one of the best in the conference. On the first play of the drive, Butler-Lawson exploded for a 51 yard gain, bringing the Mavs all the way inside the Beavers’ 15 yard-line and forcing a timeout to be called by the Beavers. However, the Mavs were unable to punch it in themselves, settling for a field goal that Jaeger was able to knock through the uprights, getting back on track and putting some points on the board for the Mavs.
The first quarter ended with the same 7-3 score, but on the first play of the second quarter, Mavs’ QB Hayden Ekern hooked up with WR Mason Perich for a 37-yard score to put the Mavs up, 10-7.
With the Mavs’ offense clicking, it was the defense’s turn to make a play. Exactly when the team needed it, DL Shawn Brodie knocked the ball free from Beavers’ RB Ali Mohamed on the second play of their ensuing drive.
Taking the lead and recovering a fumble all in the span of a minute of game time, the game was in the hands of the Mavs, facing first-and-ten from inside the redzone. After a short run and an incompletion, on third down, Ekern was intercepted by BSU’s Princeten Harris in the end zone for a touchback as the Beavers’ defense proved why it is one of the NSIC’s best. However, Harris was a bit too excited about his interception, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that sent their offense back 10 yards, where they would start their drive from their own 10-yard line instead of the 20.
This would not end up being a problem for the Beavers, as they put together the longest drive of the game, a 15-play, 66-yard drive resulting in a field goal to tie the game at 10. Feeling in the mood for field goals, the Mavs would add another one of their own to put them back on top, 13-10 with 1:52 left in the half. The teams were unable to pick up a first down on each of their final first-half drives, sending them to the locker rooms with the same 13-10 score.
The third quarter would see the most scoring of the game, with three touchdowns being scored. Two from the Mavs and one from the Beavers. One play after completing a 31-yard pass, BSU QB Brandon Alt was intercepted by LB Jacob Daulton of the Mavs. Then, Butler-Lawson took the Mavs’ first offensive play of the second half to the house as he ran in an 80-yard score to put the Mavs up 20-10.
Feeling the pressure, the Beavers came back on offense, running every play in their no-huddle offense until they found the end zone on a three yard score from Mohamed.
Two drives later, the turnovers would begin to haunt the Mavs, as Ekern threw an interception and after forcing a punt from the Beavers, the punt was muffed and the Beavers took over inside the Mavs’ 15-yard line. One play later, and the Beavers had taken the lead, 24-20.
After a Mavs’ punt, the turnover pendulum would swing back the Mavs’ way, as Alt was strip-sacked by Cody Brown and the ball was recovered by Zach Krause at the Beavers’ 32-yard line, setting the Mavs up in prime scoring position.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Mavs were faced with a fourth down. Fourth-and-two from the 2-yard line. Going for it and risking coming away with nothing, the Mavs were unable to convert and turned the ball over on downs.
The risk turned out to be the right decision, as the Beavers could not get anything going and the Mavs forced a punt. Following the defensive stand, the Mavs put together an 8-play, 57 yard touchdown drive that ended up being the game-winner.
Taking the lead 27-24, the Beavers were on their heels, needing a score on offense to keep them alive. They were held in check by the Maverick defense, and punted, taking only 45 seconds off the clock and giving the ball back to the Mavs who needed to just run the clock out.
They did just that. Running five plays, picking up two first downs and taking over four minutes off the clock, all seemed good for the Mavs. Until on their sixth play of the drive, Butler-Lawson coughed up the ball, and it was recovered by the Beavers.
Taking over with just over two minutes left in the game, the Beavers drove all the way down to the Mavs’ 24-yard line where Dakota Smith left his mark on the game and helped the Mavs take home their most important win on the season, 27-24.
“I’m proud of our players and coaches on winning the football game,” Hoffner said. “It’s an impressive win on the road for the Mavericks as we beat a top-10 nationally ranked team. We played exceptionally well on defense and on offense we put up enough points to help our team win.”
Butler-Lawson finished with a career high 235 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Ekern threw for 198 yards, leading the way for a Maverick offense that finished with 483 yards of total offense.
Defensively, Daulton led the way with 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and an interception. His efforts were recognized and rewarded, as he was named this week’s NSIC Defensive Player of the Week.
With their three-point victory, the Mavs have now cemented themselves atop the NSIC and will head back to Blakeslee Stadium for their homecoming game. Their matchup with MSU Moorhead will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
Header Photo: It takes a really good team to go into the opponent’s home stadium and come out with a win, but the Mavs are just that good. (Jackson Forderer/SPX)
Write to Hayden Lee at email@example.com