College football: Bulldogs' cornerstone Johnson-Martin helps team down Winona State

WINONA, Minn. -- Minnesota Duluth football player Mitchell Johnson-Martin grew up in La Crosse, Wis., in the shadow of Winona State. While Johnson-Martin wasn't recruited by the Warriors, he never took offense. After all, the undersized cornerbac...

Chuck Miller / Winona Daily News Minnesota Duluth's Gus Wedig lays on top of Winona State's Greg Rooney after tackling Rooney causing him to drop a deep pass during the Warriors' game on Saturday afternoon at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium in Winona. Winona State lost 37-17.

WINONA, Minn. - Minnesota Duluth football player Mitchell Johnson-Martin grew up in La Crosse, Wis., in the shadow of Winona State.

While Johnson-Martin wasn’t recruited by the Warriors, he never took offense. After all, the undersized cornerback was hardly recruited by anybody. That’s just part of what makes days like Saturday so special.

Johnson-Martin had his second fumble return for a touchdown in as many weeks and junior quarterback Mike Rybarczyk scored three touchdowns in his first start in more than a year as the No. 5 Bulldogs stayed unbeaten with a key 37-17 NSIC victory over Winona State before 2,790 at Maxwell Field.

“This absolutely does feel good,”said Johnson-Martin, who had upwards of 50 family and friends in attendance in what amounted to an emotional homecoming win for him. “Each week we try to go 1-and-0, but this was a big win. We’ll celebrate this one, but we’ll flip the page on Monday and then onto the next one.”

UMD (8-0) is in the driver’s seat to a high seed and home playoff game with the first regional rankings coming out Monday.


UMD’s next three opponents, Minnesota-Crookston, Mary and Northern State, are a combined 3-21, punctuating the importance of Saturday’s game for the Bulldogs.

Rybarczyk, who ran for two touchdowns and caught another from receiver Nate Ricci on a trick play, certainly wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t turn the ball over as he was 12-for-24 passing for 162 yards while adding 15 carries for 83 yards

Rybarczyk, playing after John Larson suffered a season-ending injury last week, rarely forced things and erred on the side caution, letting the Bulldogs’ defense do the rest.

“I thought Mike did a great job, and it didn’t surprise me, given the way he approaches things,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “He didn’t prepare for this game this past week. He’s been preparing for it his entire career.”

Sophomore quarterback Owen Burke threw for 185 yards and a touchdown to lead Winona State (5-3) but was just 8-for-28 passing as his receivers did him no favors on an afternoon that started with the wind gusting to 35 mph before calming later in the day.

UMD owned a 375-193 advantage in yards and recovered two fumbles, one forced by Johnson-Martin, which he returned 7 yards for a touchdown to end the first quarter, and the other by senior linebacker Alex Helmer at a pivotal moment in the second half, with the Warriors threatening to make a game of it.

The Bulldogs, who held the Warriors to 5 yards rushing on 25 carries, had a 151-0 rushing advantage in building a 23-7 halftime lead.

“That’s why they’re ranked third in the country (in run defense),” Warriors coach Tom Sawyer said. “It was really a game of discipline. The turnovers were huge, and Duluth did a great job making plays when they had to, and we didn’t. Duluth is too good of a football team to make those kind of mistakes.”


Perhaps the biggest mistake was the wide receiver reverse Winona State tried that the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Johnson-Martin completely smothered to turn into seven points the other way. It was all him. He identified the play, knocked the ball loose, scooped it up and took it in for the score.

It’s hard to measure attributes like instincts and desire, those unseen qualities that do exist. They can’t be poured into a container to check the volume. There’s no tape to measure them, no scale to weigh them, no stopwatch to time them, but they sure show up on game day.

Johnson-Martin is the perfect example of that.

“Mitchell is our kind of guy,” Wiese said. “He came here as a walk-on, but through character and hard work became a captain and leader of our football team. That’s the foundation of our football program, guys who come here to work hard and develop. Mitchell is exactly the kind of guy we’re looking for. He’s all heart.”

Minn. Duluth 13-10-0-14-37
Winona St. 0-7-3-7-17 First QuarterUMD - Mike Rybarczyk 6 run (run failed), 7:44
UMD - Mitchell Johnson-Martin 7 fumble recovery (Dan Branger kick), 0:00 Second QuarterWSU - Greg Rooney 3 pass from Dawson Davis (Paul Ortiz kick), 12:26
UMD - Rybarczyk 9 pass from Nate Ricci (Branger kick), 5:14
UMD - Branger 27 field goal, 0:23 Third QuarterWSU - Ortiz 26 field goal, 4:06 Fourth QuarterUMD - Rybarczyk 1 run (Branger kick), 13:45
WSU - Isaiah Frandsen 35 pass from Owen Burke (Ortiz kick), 11:35
UMD - Zach Ojile 1 run (Branger kick), 3:22 UMD WSUFirst downs..................................20 11
Rushes-yards.......................51-204 25-5
Passing....................................171 188
Comp-Att-Int......................13-25-0 9-29-0
Kick returns-yards.................2-20 7-91
Punts-yards..........................4-37.0 5-28.8
Fumbles-lost..............................0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards........................8-68 5-50
Time of possession................38:14 21:46 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRUSHING - UMD, Mike Rybarczyk 15-83, Wade Sullivan 21-76, Alex Lasinski 4-30, Bryce Heim 3-8, Ben Everhart 1-4, Nate Ricci 2-3, Zach Ojile 2-1, Chris McGrady 2-0. WSU, Sam Santiago-Lloyd 13-30, Eric Birth 4-9, Owen Burke 6-(-11), Tanner Gran 1-(-22).PASSING - UMD, Rybarczyk 12-24-162-0, Ricci 1-1-9-0. WSU, Burke 8-28-185-0, Dawson Davis 1-1-3-0.RECEIVING - UMD, Nick Eliason 1-41, Ricci 4-38, Tyler Lattery 2-38, Sullivan 2-21, Ojile 1-18, Johnny McCormick 2-16, Rybarczyk 1-9. WSU, Isaiah Frandsen 3-108, Santiago-Lloyd 2-64, Darryl Williams 2-12, Greg Rooney 1-3, Tyler Anderson 1-1.

Chuck Miller / Winona Daily News Winona State's Isaiah Hall chases down Duluth back Wade Sullivan as Sullivan breaks free outside on Saturday afternoon in Winona. Duluth defeated Winona State 37-17.

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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