(Author’s note: I covered my first 100-point football game tonight and the most frightening part is that the scoring outburst came as no surprise. UMD, the nation’s second-ranked NCAA Division II team, can score in bunches and SCSU, with its outstanding quarterback, was primed for a breakout against the Bulldogs’ struggling defense. Is this where football is going in the 21st Century? Unfortunately it seems so. I’m not clamoring for 7-6 games either, but the balance of power has shifted too far to the offense for my taste. Anyway, here’s the game story, filed from Husky Stadium under a full moon and a glowing scoreboard.)
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Pinball aficionados would appreciate what happened Saturday night at Husky Stadium. After more than 1,000 combined yards of total offense and 100 points, the scoreboard finally hit TILT. When it did, St. Cloud State University celebrated a 51-49 win over the University of Minnesota Duluth, dealing the No. 2 Bulldogs their first defeat of the season on the game’s last play.
SCSU senior quarterback Phillip Klaphake was the hero. He took the final snap with three seconds remaining, scrambled left, reversed field when UMD lost backside containment and finally slung a touchdown strike to Michael Walker that erased the Bulldogs’ 49-45 lead at the final gun. The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year finished with a school-record 466 yards through the air, 80 more on the ground and six touchdowns. UMD, which has lost just three times in its last 32 games away from Duluth since 2007 (but twice to St. Cloud State), finished with frustration.
“It’s too bad somebody had to lose,” said UMD head coach Bob Nielson. “But I’m proud of our guys. They played hard.”
Saturday’s bout was the highest-scoring game ever played between the NSIC North Division foes in a rivalry dating back to 1933 — and it was affirmation that no lead, and certainly no opponent, can ever be taken lightly. It was on this same field exactly 11 months ago to the day that SCSU slowed UMD’s roll toward a fourth-straight NSIC crown with a stunning 35-7 defeat. The Huskies took a different route to the same outcome this time. They trailed throughout, not going ahead until 13 minutes had expired in the final quarter. UMD senior quarterback Chase Vogler quickly regained the lead only to have it surrendered again in the last 1:16.
“Give St. Cloud credit,” said Nielson. “They crawled back in the game and made a play at the end.”
Until then, it looked like Vogler would have the last laugh on this 80-degree evening. He threw for 164 yards, ran for 120 more and figured in six of UMD’s seven touchdowns – four running and two passing. His throwing scores — to sophomore Zach Zweifel and junior Jeremy Reierson — gave UMD a quick 14-0 lead, but there would be no run-away victory for the Bulldogs (4-1 overall).
SCSU (3-2) weathered the early storm and Klaphake hit Taylor Berger with a 23-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to awaken the Huskies. His scoring strike swung momentum, but only for a moment as UMD’s Justin Fowlkes took the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to the Huskies 32. However a holding penalty nullified much of the gain and Vogler threw an interception six plays later, setting SCSU up near midfield.
Klaphake methodically took advantage, using 11 plays to move his Huskies to the UMD 5 before the defense stiffened. A hurried pass on third down fell incomplete and SCSU settled for a field goal mere moments after a tie seemed certain. The red-zone stand was an emotional lift for UMD, now nursing a 14-10 lead, and Fowlkes quickly restored a two-possession margin with his second-straight long kick return, an 80-yard touchdown scamper on SCSU’s ensuing kickoff. The lengthy, meandering romp contributed to what would be another great day of special teams play for UMD, which entered Saturday with the nation’s second-best kickoff return average and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs piled up 208 more return yards against SCSU, along with another score.
SCSU had an opportunity to answer after the Folkes return, but junior defensive back Chris Blake intercepted Klaphake on the Huskies’ first play and set UMD’s offense up in the red zone. Four plays later, Vogler scooped a low snap, scampered right and lunged across the goal line to make it 28-10. UMD jogged into the halftime tunnel looking good, but this one was far from over.
The scoring barrage continued just two minutes into the third quarter when Klaphake sprinted in for a nine-yard touchdown. He engineered another touchdown drive five minutes later, sealing it with a 36-yard pass to Eli Shoemaker. With the extra point good, UMD’s margin was sliced to 28-23.
Vogler kept the Bulldogs a step ahead with his second touchdown run minutes later, and SCSU answered with a 38-yard fourth-down touchdown run from Michael Walker less than two minutes after that, moving the combined score into the sixties at 35-30.
By now, the Huskies had changed kickoff tactics, electing to pooch kick. Vogler took advantage of the short field and drove the Bulldogs to a 42-30 lead with his third rushing touchdown of the night and then UMD’s defense made a key stop as senior Blake Rogers dragged Klaphake down for a third-down sack with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But the UMD offense sputtered and Klaphake converted three more touchdowns in the game’s final seven minutes to seal the Bulldogs’ disappointing fate.
UMD, which until tonight had never lost a game in its 80-year football history when scoring more than 41 points, will return to Griggs Field at James S. Malosky Stadium to host Minnesota State University-Moorhead in the annual Hall of Fame Game next Saturday evening.
– Jayson Hron
- Despite the offensive onslaught, it could rightly be said that SCSU’s rush defense decided the game. While UMD amassed 203 net rushing yards, 120 of that total came from Vogler scrambles and improvisations. The Bulldogs’ running backs gained just 83 yards on 22 carries, well below their per-carry average, and their inability to establish a consistent ground attack made it difficult for UMD to control the football for extended periods of time. As a result, UMD’s offense couldn’t drain the clock with runs and its defense was exploited.
- Coming into the game, I was interested to see whether UMD’s offense, which ranked No. 2 nationally in third-down conversion efficiency at 58 percent, could maintain that pace against an SCSU defense that was among the nation’s best at preventing third-down conversions. The first time UMD faced third down, Vogler connected on a 33-yard touchdown pass, but after that, the Bulldogs were less successful. They finished the day a respectable 5-for-12 on third down, but it was a game in which one more third-down conversion would have likely changed the outcome.
- UMD, which has gained a reputation through recent years of bringing tremendous pressure on defense, is struggling to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2012. The Bulldogs came into Saturday with just five sacks in four games, and while they got to Klaphake four times in his nearly 50 drop-backs, there was no consistency to the pressure. This was especially alarming against an SCSU offensive line that has surrendered more sacks than any other NSIC team this season (15 entering Saturday).