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College football: Chowa's interception aids in Bulldogs season-opening victory

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson patted Kenny Chowa's back on Saturday and said, "I told you you'd make a play." Nielson says that to Chowa all the time, but for most of Chowa's young career at UMD, his coach's pre...

UMD opener
Augustana's Nate Mahone is taken down by Minnesota Duluth's Colby Ring (31), Derrick Zappa (34) and Cameron Harper (27) on Saturday at Kirkeby-Over Stadium in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo by The Argus Leader)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson patted Kenny Chowa's back on Saturday and said, "I told you you'd make a play."

Nielson says that to Chowa all the time, but for most of Chowa's young career at UMD, his coach's prediction hasn't panned out.

Until Saturday.

Freshman Brian Lucas rushed 19 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, and Chowa's 39-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter was the decisive blow in the Bulldogs' 20-12 season-opening victory over Augustana before 5,718 fans who flooded Kirkeby-Over Stadium hoping to see the Vikings knock off the defending national champions.

That wasn't going to happen, thanks in large part to Chowa, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound sophomore from Menomonie, Wis., who is in his first year as a full-time starter, jumped a hitch route to make his first career interception.

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"Coach (Tyler) Yelk made a "trap" call from up in the box, and that basically means I take a jab to make it look like I'm going deep but instead come back hard," Chowa said. "The ball came right to me. I was just waiting for it, thinking, 'Catch it as safely as you can.' Normally you catch it with your hands, but I just thought, 'Cradle it and go.'"

Go he did, racing untouched to the end zone, with Augustana quarterback Josh Hanson being his closest pursuer.

Augustana coach Mike Aldrich said the interception wasn't the result of a miscommunication but a combination of Hanson forcing the throw and the receiver not coming back hard enough for the ball.

Trailing 20-12, Augustana would have more chances to potentially tie the game. The Vikings drove to the UMD 32 before the drive stalled, with Chowa deflecting a Hanson pass on fourth down to seal the victory with 1:31 to play and Augie out of timeouts.

"I was expecting a skinny post (route) because they had been running it on me all day," Chowa said of Augustana's last offensive play. "I got challenged on it three times. Once they scored, and the other two times I had to step up. I knew it was coming. I'm obviously new, and they haven't seen me on film, so teams are going to pick on you a little bit."

Chowa's pass deflection was the last defensive play in a defensive game as the top-ranked Bulldogs held off the eighth-ranked Vikings in a rematch of last year's NCAA Division II quarterfinals.

UMD's new-look running game got off to a great start with Lucas opening the scoring by busting up the middle for a 67-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter.

Augustana answered with two Hanson touchdown passes but couldn't convert the extra-point kicks. UMD senior kicker David Nadeau, who had an earlier field goal attempt blocked, made a 41-yarder just before the end of the first half and a 44-yarder to open the second half to give the Bulldogs a 13-12 lead after three quarters.

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Hanson, who finished 23-for-33 for 235 yards, had only 81 of his passing yards after halftime and was sacked three times. His counterpart, UMD junior Chase Vogler, finished 12-for-18 for 114 yards while his scrambling was held in check.

"Give credit to Augie. They did a good job taking things away from us on offense and had us on our heels on defense," Nielson said. "It's one thing to work against your scout team all week in practice, but it's another thing to play up to full game speed, and it showed with us early on. We played a lot better defensively in the second half.

"Kenny was one of our top backups at corner last year. He has been waiting for this opportunity and obviously took advantage of it."

The second half was redemption for UMD's defense and Chowa in particular, so this time when Coach Nielson asked for a big play, Chowa delivered.

"I've only started one game since high school, so it's been awhile," Chowa said. "I felt like I started off slow, but I just kind of shook off the first half. Coach Nielson has always believed in me, so I just had to go out there and play like I know I can."

Minnesota Duluth 7-3-3-7--20
Augustana 6-6-0-0--12

First Quarter

UMD -- Brian Lucas 67 run (David Nadeau kick), 11:53

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AUG -- Sam Holsen 18 pass from Josh Hanson (kick failed), 8:19

Second Quarter

AUG -- Jordan Marshall 3 pass from Hanson (kick blocked), 4:16

UMD -- Nadeau 41 FG, :26

Third Quarter

UMD -- Nadeau 44 FG, 6:37

Fourth Quarter

UMD -- Kenny Chowa 36 interception return (Nadeau kick), 7:30

A -- 5,718.

UMD AUG

First downs 17 19

Rushes-yards 42-158 30-9

Passing 114 235

Comp-Att-Int 12-18-0 23-33-1

Kick returns-yards 2-35 6-150

Punts-yards 3-99 4-136

Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-1

Penalties-yards 3-32 5-35

Time of possession 29:52 30:08

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- UMD, Lucas 19-116, Chasse Vogler 13-30, Austin Sikorski 7-16, Team 3-(-4). Augustana: Nate Mahone 13-55, Curt Truhe 5-27, Josh Hanson 10-(-16), Team 2-(-57).

PASSING -- UMD, Vogler 12-18-0-114. Augustana, J. Hanson 23-33-1-235.

RECEIVING -- UMD, Zach Zweifel 4-29, Joe Reichert 3-11, Ben Helmer 2-40, Aaron Roth 1-15, Sikorski 1-11, Collin Stinogel 1-8. Augustana, Mahone 6-65, Sam Holsen 5-73, Jordan Marshall 5-43, Noah Huisman 5-42, Isaac Jorgensen 1-9, Ben Parsley 1-3.

Related Topics: BULLDOG SPORTSFOOTBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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