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College football: UMD third-string QB Everhart ready in a pinch

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth quarterback Ben Everhart (14) hands the ball off to running back Zach Ojile (33) during Saturday's game against the University of Mary at Malosky Stadium. 1 / 2
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth linebacker Gus Wedig (44) taunts the opposing team during Saturday's game against Mary at Malosky Stadium. 2 / 2

Minnesota Duluth quarterback Ben Everhart played in eight games in a relief role last year and looked good doing it, throwing for 1,259 yards, with eight touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Despite that, Everhart was relegated to third-string status to start this season with the return of John Larson and Mike Rybarczyk under center.

Everhart said nothing changed in his approach.

"Same as always," Everhart said. "Be ready to play."

With Larson breaking his leg Oct. 13 against Southwest Minnesota State, Everhart has again been thrust into a more prominent role for the sixth-ranked Bulldogs (10-0), who close out the regular season at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Malosky Stadium against Northern State (4-6).

Everhart, a junior from Eau Claire (Wis.) Memorial, has thrown for 379 yards and five touchdowns, with most of that coming in the last two weeks as UMD is trying to keep Rybarczyk, the new starter, healthy by limiting his minutes while at the same time getting Everhart more experience.

"It feels good to be out there with the guys, especially when we keep winning football games," Everhart said.

What UMD has done this season is remarkable considering the Bulldogs lost arguably their two best offensive players in Larson and receiver Jason Balts for the season, they've had injuries in the backfield and their top cover man, Tareq Abulebbeh, has been sidelined.

"It certainly takes a team effort to sustain that success," Everhart said. "It's not easy to do, but you just keep working hard to get it done. Everybody on that sideline is ready to go, and that's been a big part of the success we've had."

Everhart was 10-for-16 passing for 131 yards and two touchdowns in UMD's 55-0 victory over the University of Mary last week while adding eight carries for 45 yards and another score.

The teams were scoreless after a quarter before the Bulldogs pulled away. Mary coach Craig Bagnell said UMD's depth is one of the key differences that separates them from other NCAA Division II programs.

"At this level, building depth is probably the hardest thing to do but they're able to sustain injuries without missing a beat," Bagnell said. "They get by with fewer scholarships than some other programs because they have players who want to be here and be part of their success."

Defense, Ojile come up big

UMD appeared headed toward a shutout two weeks ago at Minnesota-Crookston before a bad snap led to a Golden Eagles' touchdown with 1:50 remaining in the 63-7 blowout.

Last week it almost happened again as Mary appeared to get an interception return for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to pass interference and the Bulldogs went on to their first shutout of the season.

"The last couple weeks our offense has been giving up more points than our 'D'," Everhart said, laughing. "That's a great thing for our defense."

Leading the way was senior linebacker Alex Helmer, who had a career-high three quarterback sacks and now has a team-high 9.5 this season.

"Alex is a great story," UMD coach Curt Wiese said. "He came here a walk-on and has just continued to compete. He's a leader of our football team. He provides a lot of energy in the locker room and plays full speed. He's a heady player."

UMD's defense held Mary to minus-14 yards rushing while the offense rolled up a season-high 625 yards, including 296 on the ground.

Leading the rushing attack was redshirt freshman Zach Ojile, who rushed 12 times for 120 yards and a touchdown. Ojile normally plays tight end but was plugged into the backfield for the injured Wade Sullivan.

"Zach is an awesome asset to the team," Everhart said. "He plays tight end, plays in the backfield, is great athlete and great person, too. We're very lucky to have him."

Ojile has a twin brother on the team, Josh, but they're not identical. Josh is the big brother, an offensive lineman who goes 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds. That's not to say Zach is small. He's added about 30 pounds of muscle since high school and is 6-1, 235, while appearing to keep his speed.

"I'd like to think so," Zach said, laughing.

NORTHERN STATE (4-6) AT NO. 6 UMD (10-0)

What: NSIC football regular-season finale; Senior Day

When: 1:05 p.m. Saturday

Where: Malosky Stadium

TV: My9

Internet: portal.stretchinternet.com/umd

Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9

Twitter: @TacoJon1

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