The University of Minnesota Morris football team rallied back from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half to take a lead in the closing stages of the game, but Macalester College returned a kickoff for a touchdown to swing momentum back in its favor and held on with two late defensive stands for a 38-32 win over the Cougars on Saturday night.
Minnesota Morris took the lead in the first quarter after its opening drive was extended thanks to a fumbled punt return from the Scots. Given a fresh set of downs and starting inside the Macalester 30, the Cougars went to their ground game and cashed in a three-yard touchdown run from Garrett Elison to make it 6-0, though the point after was blocked.
A Macalester drive spanning the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter resulted in a 13-yard touchdown run and a 7-6 lead for the home side. Later in the quarter, the Scots were driving until a sack from Hunter Infanger set up a fourth down and Mondo Calderon blocked the field goal attempt which was returned by Infanger into the Macalester red zone. Marcus Reeb then found Branden Carlson for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 13-7.
The Macalester offense found its groove late in the first half, scoring on back-to-back possessions late in the second quarter to take a 21-13 lead into halftime. The Scots added onto their lead with a touchdown to start the third quarter after being gifted great field position after a bad snap on a Minnesota Morris punt.
Trailing 27-13, the Cougars roared back with a 15-play, 82-yard drive that was capped by a five-yard touchdown run from Reeb, slicing the deficit in half at 27-20. Macalester tacked on a field goal in the final minute of the quarter to head into the fourth with a 30-20 advantage.
With Minnesota Morris on the move but facing a huge fourth down near midfield on its first drive of the fourth quarter, Reeb connected with Ethan Tang for a huge 29-yard gain. Two plays later, Elijah Kowalzek ran it in from 17 yards out to cut into the Macalester lead again. Macalester was once again able to block the PAT to keep a four-point lead on the the Cougars.
The Scots were on the doorstep of re-establishing a two-score lead with less than seven minutes left, but Macalester quarterback Michael Nadeau was stripped of the ball as he neared the goal line and Minnesota Morris recovered on its own 1. After a 10-yard completion to Cole Mitchell gave the Cougars a bit of breathing room, Reeb found a wide-open Dylan Naughton for an 84-yard touchdown catch that put UMN Morris on top, 32-30.
The joy was short-lived as Macalester took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 88 yards to paydirt. After converting the two-point conversion, the Scots led by a score of 38-32. Minnesota Morris had things working on offense and quickly moved the ball downfield as the clock ticked under two minutes, but the drive ended in the Macalester red zone with a fumble that the Scots fell on. The Cougar defense did what was needed however, forcing a three-and-out and giving the offense one last chance. Following a big punt return from Elison to the Macalester 28, Minnesota Morris had three straight incompletions and a desperation heave towards the end zone on fourth down was batted away and then intercepted for a touchback to seal the Macalester victory.
Reeb ended the night 13-of-36 for 258 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding 42 yards on 10 carries with a score on the ground. Blake Johnson was the leading rusher for the Cougars with 52 yards on 13 carries. Carlson was the top receiver for Minnesota Morris, hauling in six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Connor Oldenburg was the top tackler on the night for UMN Morris with seven stops (six solo), plus a fumble recovery. Infanger and Tayven Penninger each ended with six tackles. Carter Wattenhofer and Jayden McIntyre both forced a fumble in the game.
Minnesota Morris returns home next weekend for its home opener at Big Cat Stadium. Kick-off on Sept. 11 against Carleton College is set for 2 p.m.