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Nick Larson (right) of the Maroon team rushes the ball in to the end zone for the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the annual Minnesota Duluth Maroon-White Spring Game at Malosky Stadium on Friday night. Maroon defeated White 17-14. Photos by Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

Maroon edges White on last-second TD

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Everybody likes an exciting finish, and nowhere is that easier to manipulate than in a spring football game.

In the closing seconds of Minnesota Duluth’s 40th annual Maroon-White Spring Game on Friday, the clock suddenly slowed, the Maroon offense got a favorable call or two and potentially big plays by the defense were overlooked.

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It was almost enough to make the ending of an NBA game look legitimate.

But it was exciting when Maroon quarterback Drew Bauer found Nick Larson with a screen pass over the middle and Larson rumbled in for the go-ahead touchdown from 10 yards out to lift the Maroon team to a 17-14 victory before 1,071 at Malosky Stadium.

The White offense got the ball back with 22 seconds remaining but took a knee.

“That was my call,” said UMD coach Curt Wiese, perhaps concealing a maroon jersey underneath his sweatshirt. “The main goal of the spring game is to come out of it healthy, and we were fortunate enough to do that.”

The annual spring game is the culmination of the spring practice season and gives fans a sneak peak to the fall, in particular, a first look at those players who either redshirted last season or weren’t on the team.

One of UMD’s biggest question areas after last fall was the defensive backfield, but University of North Dakota transfer Daryl Brown will help shore up that position while perhaps making an impact on special teams.

UMD is solid at receiver and could get a boost with the addition of Nate Ricci, a high school quarterback who redshirted last fall. Ricci, of Stillwater, Minn., led all players with four receptions for 79 yards on Friday.

And then there was Zach Bassuener, another 2013 redshirt. Bassuener started his career at defensive back before being moved to outside linebacker this spring. Bassuener intercepted Bauer in the flat in the third quarter and could have rumbled in for a touchdown but, per spring game rules, the ball was blown dead.

“I thought for sure it was a pick-six,” Bassuener said. “I was looking forward to showing off my linebacker speed.”

Bassuener, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., hopes to be part of the linebacker rotation this fall. He factored into the closing     seconds as well.

With the Maroon team facing a fourth-and-10 late in the fourth quarter, Bauer, with Bassuener all over him, found Ricci for a terrific over-the-shoulder catch of 34 yards. Hitting the quarterback wasn’t allowed, so quarterback sacks were called whenever a defender touched the QB or came close to him.

“I thought I had a sack, but the main point was to get everybody experience,” Bassuener said. “They definitely let us play at the end. It was all in good fun. Everybody ended on a good note, and that’s how it is supposed to be.”

Bauer, the heir apparent at quarterback for the Bulldogs, finished 10-for-23 for 113 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Bauer also had a 63-yard touchdown run on the Maroon team’s first play.

Bauer’s backup, Eric Kline, re-aggravated a knee injury while slipping on ice this winter but is expected back next fall. That gave sophomore-to-be Justin Laureys extended action Friday, and he responded by going 9-for-15 for 105 yards and a touchdown. Another sophomore, Beau Bofferding, showed good speed on a 50-yard TD run for the White team.

“I thought both quarterbacks called a good run game but probably could have made some better decisions throwing the football,” Wiese said. “But that’s what spring ball is all about.”

Spring games can be difficult to evaluate. The squads are split, so Bauer wasn’t working with his regular complement of receivers and timing can be affected. The line, meanwhile, which relies on communication, also can be affected. Both quarterbacks saw their share of pressure.

“There was a lot of miscommunication, but that’s no excuse,” said Bauer, who looked a tad bigger and quicker than last fall. “That is something we have to work on to get to where we want to be. Our goal is to play 14 or 15 games, to play for a national championship, so you’re going to have guys in and out of the lineup. We can all get better, and that starts with me.”

UMD’s goal was to get 1,000 fans, and they reached it.

The game also had a theme, to help those in need, with representatives of Goodwill Industries, Savers and Second Harvest Food Bank on hand to accept donations.

Bauer had a large family contingent in attendance from his hometown of Inver Grove Heights, Minn. They were treated to an exciting finish, albeit one aided by a little help.

Bauer was asked about the calls and non calls that led to his heroics, and he just smiled and said, “It goes both ways. All that matters is which team has more points at the end.”

Maroon    7-3-0-7—17

White    0-7-7-0—14

M — Drew Bauer 63 run (Matthew Terhaar kick)

M — Tyler McLaughlin 25 field goal

W — Beau Bofferding 50 run (Andrew Brees kick)

W — Andrew Roth 35 pass from Justin Laureys (Brees kick)

M — Nick Larson 10 pass from Bauer (McLaughlin kick)

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