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 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 see 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. 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, then 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