Any gambler knows the odds always favor the house.
Minnesota-Duluth coach Curt Wiese rolled the dice Saturday afternoon during an NCAA Division II second-round playoff game, and Northwest Missouri State raked in the chips with a 45-21 victory at Bearcat Stadium.
“We knew going in that we needed to have some execution in the kicking game to create a little bit of momentum,” said Wiese, whose Bulldogs converted on two fake punts but failed to cross the goal line on a fourth-down run from the 3. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum in the first half the way we probably should have.
“The fourth-down call was tough to get stopped there and to execute two fake puts and come out with zero points is tough. In the same sense, we said as a staff, as a program, we’re going to lay it all on the line today.”
Northwest, 12-0, then took charge starting from its own 2. With Brady Bolles in for a series replacing starting quarterback Trevor Adams, the Bearcats drove 90 yards in 11 plays; Simon Mathiesen converted a 25-yard field goal with 2:11 left in the first half that gave Northwest a 3-0 lead.
“The big thing for us as the offense is when Brady came in and switched the momentum for us,” said Adams, who completed 16 of 24 passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions. “The offensive line was just playing great, and the receivers were making plays. It just wasn’t clicking the way we wanted to. (Bolles) did an awesome job and drove it down the field.
“I think that just got us rolling more confident as an offense.”
It did. In fact, the Bearcats scored the game’s first 31 points and held Duluth scoreless through three quarters of play. But Duluth, 11-2, mounted a furious comeback early in the fourth quarter, pulling within 31-21 with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.
“The game flipped on us a little bit toward the end,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said.
But the Bearcats offense sealed the victory moments later. On second down from the Northwest 47, Adams threw deep to Reuben Thomas, who averted Duluth defenders to the 2; Bolles ran it in from there to cushion the Bearcats’ lead.
“This time of year, you have to play to win,” said Dorrel, whose top-seeded Bearcats will play host to St. Cloud (Minn.) State next Saturday in the national quarterfinals. “If you get conservative and you play tentative and play not to lose, that’s usually when you lose.”
Duluth, which had averaged 303.1 rushing yards per game, finished with 98 yards on the ground. Junior running back Austin Sikorski, who has had 11 100-yard rushing days in his career, amassed 21 yards.
“I was really proud of our defense the way they played, especially in the first half,” Dorrel said. “I think the thing that really helped us get our feet going offensively was our defense.”NAIA quarterfinals
• Baker’s season came to an end as the Wildcats lost 36-28 at home to Morningside (Iowa). Baker quarterback Jake Morse completed 34 of 44 passes for 417 yards and three TDs. The Wildcats, who finished 11-2, were playing in the NAIA quarterfinals for the first time in 20 years.
• Missouri Valley, which shared the Heart of America championship with Baker and Benedictine, also lost on Saturday. Carroll beat the Vikings 27-3 in Helena, Mont. Freshman linebacker Luke Fisher made 11 tackles for Missouri Valley, which finished 9-3.
• Tabor also lost in the quarterfinals falling 44-23 to Grand View in Des Moines, Iowa. The Bluejays finished 10-3.