MORRIS, Minn. – The University of Minnesota Morris football team was locked in a battle with the University of Northwestern on Saturday night at Big Cat Stadium, but with the score tied at 21-21 in the second half, the Cougar defense took things over and forced four quick punts from the Eagles. One of those possessions turned into the game-winning touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter for Minnesota Morris as the Cougars came away with a 28-21 victory to improve to 5-4 (4-1 UMAC) on the year.
The game didn’t start off that well for Minnesota Morris as the Cougars had the opening drive of the game end with a fumble from Marcus Reeb that was recovered by Northwestern. The Eagles took over in Cougar territory and scored in six plays, finished off by a perfectly-placed 21-yard touchdown pass from Nick Drinken to Damon Clapper for a 7-0 lead.
The Cougars weren’t down long, thanks to the defense. Though the second Minnesota Morris drive ended with a punt, Desmond Donalson picked off Drinken deep in Cougar territory to keep the Eagles from going up by two scores. That interception started an 11-play, 70-yard drive for Minnesota Morris that ended with an 11-yard touchdown run from Blake Johnson. The extra point from Alex Happ knotted the score at 7-7.
Early in the second quarter, the Minnesota Morris defense intercepted Drinken again. This time it was Hunter Infanger who flipped the field for the Cougars. Though UMN Morris didn’t score on the ensuing drive, a punt from Connor Oldenburg with the wind behind him traveled 52 yards and was downed inside the Northwestern 10-yard line. Following a three-and-out from the Cougar defense, Minnesota Morris’ offense quickly worked the ball downfield thanks to a 33-yard completion from Reeb to Ethan Tang. Two plays later, Reeb found Cole Mitchell in the flat to give the Cougars a 14-7 edge.
As the clock ticked down on the second quarter, Northwestern tied the score at 14-14 on a four-yard touchdown pass from Drinken to Clapper. The tie was short-lived however, as Blake Johnson started off the final Minnesota Morris possession of the half with a 35-yard run. Following consecutive first-down passes from Reeb to Branden Carlson that worked the ball inside the red zone, Reeb found Sam Jordan for his first catch of the season, an eight-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 21-14 advantage at the half.
The football got slippery during the break in action and each team had their opening drive of the third quarter end with a fumble. Northwestern was finally able to hold onto the ball long enough to tie the game up again at 21-21 with a 21-yard pass from Drinken to Caleb Sieben midway through the third quarter.
The go-ahead touchdown drive for Minnesota Morris started late in the third quarter and featured a hefty dose of the ground game for the Cougars. As the third quarter ended, seven of the eight plays in the drive up to that point had been rushes as Minnesota Morris took the ball from its own 37 down to the Northwestern three-yard line. Johnson ran the ball in on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Happ extra point gave the Cougars a 28-21 lead.
The story the rest of the way was defense. Looking for a quick answer, Minnesota Morris held and forced a punt in five plays from Northwestern after Carter Maurice and Carter Wattenhofer combined on a sack of Drinken on third down. The next UNW drive finished with a third-down sack from Alex Emmrich and Mondo Calderon on Drinken to force a punt. The last chance for Northwestern came with 4:27 to play and the ball on its own six-yard line. Facing a third down, Drinken found Clapper over the middle but Gavin Paulson came up with a big tackle to keep Northwestern short of the first down. Pinned too far deep to think about going for it, the Eagles punted the ball back to Minnesota Morris and the Cougars picked up a pair of first downs to run out the final three minutes.
Reeb ended the game 18-of-25 for 187 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Johnson led the ground game for Minnesota Morris with 19 carries for 124 yards and a score. Tang had three catches for 59 yards, while Matt Laur added three catches for 54 yards. Wattenhofer made his presence felt on Senior Night as he had a team-high seven tackles (four solo), 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.
Following a bye week on Nov. 6, Minnesota Morris will wrap up the regular season with a de facto UMAC championship game at Greenville University on Nov. 13. Kick-off in central Illinois is set for 12 p.m.