The Minnesota State Mavericks (12-0) defeated the CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves (9-3) in an overtime showdown 16-13 at Blakelsee Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Mavericks’ opening drive featured a heavy dose of the run game featuring the return of sophomore Nate Gunn. The drive consisted of 12 plays, 11 of which came on the ground before the team turned over the ball on downs at the ThunderWolves’ 28-yard line, a strong wind making a field goal attempt nearly impossible. After several defensive stops by both teams a Minnesota State punt attempt got caught in the wind and gave CSU-Pueblo a first and 10 from the Maverick 28-yard line. Despite the good field position, the ThunderWolves could only muster a field goal opportunity which they made from 45-yards to take a 3-0 lead with 3:01 remaining in the first quarter.
The teams would go on to trade interceptions, Minnesota State’s Ty’Shonnan Brooks posted his first career interception, followed by a throw that sailed over the middle from sophomore Ryan Schlichte that gave the ThunderWolves first and 10 at the Maverick 18-yard line. CSU-Pueblo would capitalize on a seven-yard touchdown from Austin Micci to go up 10-0. The Mavericks would find their first points of the game with 0:21 remaining in the half when junior Casey Bednarski drilled a 29-yard field goal to make the score 10-3, which the teams took into halftime.
As a team, Minnesota State outgained CSU-Pueblo 104-46 and dominated in time of possession, 21:07 to 8:53. Gunn led all rushers with 80-yards on 24 carries.
The second half began with the Mavericks forcing a quick three and out which turned into a ThunderWolves punt into the wind, which netted nine yards. Minnesota State moved down the field but the drive stalled outside the red-zone, which resulted in a 30-yard field goal from Bednarski that tightened the score to a 10-6 advantage for CSU-Pueblo. With the Mavericks driving down the field late in the third quarter, wind at their back, Schlichte attempted a deep pass to freshman Nyles Williams that the ThunderWolves were able to pick off giving them first and 10 at their own 10 yard line.
With CSU-Pueblo pinned deep and the wind against them, the Mavericks used their timeouts to try to take advantage of the wind and the ThunderWolves were forced to punt with 0:07 remaining in the third. The punt put the Mavericks in good field position but an intentional grounding penalty gave them second and 23 from midfield to end the quarter.
With a run up the middle that gained nothing on second down to start the fourth quarter freshman JD Ekowa heaved a pass into the wind that found sophomore Shane Zylstra in double coverage. The pass got tipped back into the air but as he fell Zylstra pulled the ball in for a 22-yard catch to give the Mavericks a fourth and one, which they converted on a rush by Gunn. A couple of plays later, Ekowa took a designed run off the left side of the line for a 20-yard touchdown and after a successful PAT, Minnesota State claimed its first lead of the game by a score of 13-10.
Later in the quarter in an attempt to run for a first down, Ekowa had the ball forced out by CSU-Pueblo and they recovered the ball for first and 10 at the Maverick 28-yard line with 5:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. The turnover proved costly as the ThunderWolves connected on a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 13-13 with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter. Both teams attempted a late drive but the defenses clamped down and at the end of regulation, the score remained tied at 13 leading to overtime. With the game going to overtime, it marked the first time since 2014 against Pittsburg State that the Mavericks played a game that went to overtime.
In their first offensive possession in overtime, Minnesota State rushed three straight plays coming short of a first down. With the wind in his face, Bednarski drilled a 37-yard field goal attempt that got held up in the wind but found its way through the uprights. After a three and out, CSU-Pueblo also attempted a kick into the wind but it was pushed to the right giving the Mavericks the win.
Minnesota State outgained CSU Pueblo 254-149 on the day and held the final advantage in time of possession 32:33 to 27:27. Gunn led all players with 108 rushing yard on 34 carries for the Mavericks. This is the eight time this season that Gunn has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.
As a unit, the Maverick defense held the ThunderWolves to just 149 yards of total offense, the fewest it has allowed this season. Senior Brendan Chystal led the Maverick defense with 11 tackles, while senior Corey Brent tallied eight.
Minnesota State continues play in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 25, as it hosts #5 Midwestern State (10-0) at Blakeslee Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.