Stagnant offense and last-second momentum shifts left the Mavericks down in the second half and unable to pull off a win in their last regular season game.
The Mavericks lost their first game of the season at Blakeslee Stadium to the University of Minnesota Duluth and pushed the Mavericks out of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championship.
“Very unfortunate,” head coach Todd Hoffner said. “Duluth played very hard and we didn’t make enough plays to win the game. We as coaches need to do a better job.”
The first quarter was a battle of who could get on the board first, both teams went scoreless. In the second, Hayden Ekern capped off a 11 play, 73-yard drive with a six yard rushing touchdown to give the Mavericks a 7-0 lead.
UMD found their momentum directly after with a 44-yard touchdown pass.
Both teams scored again on their following drives. Ekern found TreShawn Watson open for a 32-yard touchdown pass and the Bulldogs ran the ball into the endzone with one minute remaining in the half.
Hoffner opted to run the clock down to end the half. With only a few seconds left on the clock, Hoffner went for it on fourth down hoping to end the half and not give the ball back to the Bulldogs. The MSU offense was stopped with one second remaining and the Bulldogs capitalized hitting a 39-yard field goal to take the lead going into the half.
“We ran a play that usually takes at least 5 seconds,” Hoffner said. “We should have punted, but I was concerned about a return. I was concerned about them blocking it.”
Coming out of the half, the Mavericks found themselves with another scoreless quarter while the Bulldogs took over.
The Bulldogs scored twice. One from a touchdown carry and a one from a 45-yard field goal to go up 27-14.
MSU managed to find some hope after Ekern scrambled for a 19-yard touchdown run to bring the score within one possession of 27-21. This was the closest they got to a comeback as Duluth responded one minute later with a 62-yard receiving touchdown to finish off MSU’s hopes.
“We just have to play a lot better. We have to be better,” Ekern said.
On defense, senior Dakota Smith played his last game at Blakeslee. He recovered two fumbles and forced one. He also recorded 12 tackles.
“I take a lot of pride wearing these colors,” Smith said.”I think we tried our hardest out there. It’s been amazing to play on that field but we just didn’t get it done today. We have to execute better.”
The Mavericks dropped back to 9-2 while the Bulldogs improved to 9-2. Despite the same records, the Mavericks will return to Augustana to face them in the first round of the playoffs. UMD ended the season on the win and did not make the playoffs.
“There have been a lot of positives that have happened in Blakelee in the 2023-24 season and today was not one of them,” said Hoffner. “Hats off to Duluth for holding us to 21, it was well below our goal.”
Header Photo: The Mavericks will play the Augustana Vikings in the NCAA Tournament. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)
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