MSU rides strong running attack to 63-21 win over Midwestern State

The Minnesota State Mavericks (13-0) defeated the Midwestern State Mustangs (10-1) in dominating fashion, 63-21 at Blakelsee Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Mustangs started the game with a bang as quarterback Layton Rabb found a streaking Tyler Milliken for 63-yards down the seam and one play later Rabb found D.J. Myers for a 12-yard touchdown on a flag route against man coverage.

The Mavericks responded by showing their desire to run the ball and after a drive that lasted over four minutes, junior kicker Casey Bednarski connected on a 23-yard field goal to cut the Mustang lead to 7-3. With a quick defensive adjustment, Minnesota State forced a three-and-out and continued to rely on the run game. Sophomore Nate Gunn and redshirt freshman Justin Taormina combined to run the ball for 69 yards before Gunn found the endzone to give the Mavericks their first lead, a lead they would maintain the rest of the game, and a two-point conversion from sophomore Justin Arnold thrown to junior Trevor Nissen made the score 11-7. After another three-and-out from the Mustang offense, redshirt freshman JD Ekowa hit Arnold in the endzone to push the Minnesota State lead to 18-7.

The second quarter would see both teams struggle to capitalize on scoring opportunities until the Mavericks put together a complete 13-play, 73-yard drive that ate 6:16 of game clock, which culminated in a seven-yard touchdown run from Ekowa that gave Minnesota State a 25-7 halftime lead.

The story of the half, and ultimately of the game, was the run game of the Mavericks and how it allowed them to control not only the flow of the game, but the clock. Minnesota State held the ball for 19:39 of the first half compared to 10:21 for Midwestern State, and rushed for 281 yards against 30 for the Mustangs.

The Mavericks completely controlled the third quarter as they would score the next twenty-four points with a 21-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Ryan Schlichte to redshirt freshman Nyles Williams, a one-yard Gunn touchdown run, a 38-yard field goal from Bednarski and a five-yard touchdown pass from Schlichte to sophomore Shane Zylstra. Zysltra’s 15th touchdown catch of the season ties Dorian Buford’s single-season record that he set back in 2014.

Both teams would add a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Minnesota State scoring on a seven-yard Ekowa run and a five-yard run from sophomore Ian Pribyl, to give the matchup a final score of 63-21 in favor of the Mavericks.

The sixty-three points for Minnesota State are the most they have scored since defeating Minnesota Crookston 63-3 on Sept. 26th of the 2015 season. Gunn led the Mavericks with 195 yards on 25 carries to go with two touchdowns and Taormina added 134 yards on nineteen carries and as a team Minnesota State put up 502 yards on the ground compared to twenty-five from Midwestern State. The 502 rushing yards is the most for the Mavericks since a November 16, 2013 game against Upper Iowa where they ran for 526 yards. Gun has now rushed for more than 100 yards in nine games this season, while Taormina has rushed for more than 100 yards in five games.

As a team, Minnesota State limited Midwestern State to just 285 passing yards including just 25 rushing yards. The Mustangs entered the weekend averaging 502 yards of offense a game. Senior Jerry Nash III recorded an interception, while senior Evan Perrizo tallied one sack.

Minnesota State will host the third round playoff matchup against Texas A&M-Commerce which overcame a 28-7 first half deficit to defeated Central Washington in double overtime 34-31. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m., at Blakeslee Stadium.

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