College football: Mavericks put hurt on Bulldogs

'All gas, no brakes' Mavericks trounce UMD

Minnesota-Duluth quarterback John Larson scrambles out of the pocket during Saturday's game against Minnesota State-Mankato in Mankato. Jackson Forderer / Mankato Free Press

MANKATO — Minnesota State-Mankato wide receiver Shane Zylstra said the Mavericks’ mantra all week was “all gas, no brakes.”

That was indeed the case Saturday as the Mavericks’ offense hummed like a Saturn rocket as No. 3 Minnesota State trounced No. 12 Minnesota Duluth 52-7 in a historic drubbing before a homecoming crowd of 6,171 at Blakeslee Stadium.

“We really took that mantra to heart on offense,” Zylstra said. “We just tried to play with a little chip on our shoulder. Start fast and all gas.”

Zylstra was pushing down so hard on the pedal it could have been the Flintstones, with the foot through the floorboards.

Zylstra, a 6-foot-5 senior from Spicer, Minn., had a career-high 220 receiving yards on eight receptions and three touchdowns for the Mavericks, who knocked UMD quarterback John Larson out of the game near the end of the first half en route to snapping UMD’s 24-game NSIC winning streak.


In the last NSIC game UMD lost, on Sept. 16, 2017, also against Minnesota State, Zylstra had his previous career-high of 204 receiving yards at Malosky Stadium. On Saturday, he appeared to be going for that record in the first quarter, hauling in five catches for 137 yards and two TDs. He had seven receptions for 189 yards at the half, and his day was complete through three quarters.

“We didn’t anticipate an outcome like that, I don’t think you ever do,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “In my 12 years here, we’ve never had a game like that. They had a good game plan. They came out and scored quickly, and offensively we weren’t able to rebound.”

Zylstra, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers wide receiver and punt returner Brandon Zylstra and himself a pro prospect, sparked the Mavericks on the first play of the game as UMD cornerback Michael Kirkendoll fell and Zylstra took a pass from Ryan Schlichte and raced 80 yards for a touchdown.

By the end of the first quarter, it was 21-0, and at the half, it was 35-0 as Minnesota State (5-0) had five touchdowns and a field goal on its first seven possessions, something unfathomable for the Bulldogs (4-1).

“We’ve never been embarrassed like that as a program,” Wiese said. “I’m not embarrassed by the way our guys played. I felt our guys played hard. It just snowballed quick. It’s hard to dig for answers to slow that down, but you have to hand it to Mankato for rolling with the momentum.”

Schlichte finished 9-for-17 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns, while J.D. Ekowa was 4-for-6 passing for 88 yards and another score. Senior running back Nate Gunn added 20 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown, becoming the Mavericks’ all-time leading rusher and rushing touchdowns leader.

It is that kind of balance that makes Minnesota State such a tough matchup.

“You kind of have to pick your poison defensively, and unfortunately today, we didn’t lean in the right direction,” Wiese said. “I think you have to be able to slow Nate Gunn down and force them to put the ball in the air, but starting with the first play of the game, we didn’t stop anything through the air. We need to be better.”


The 52 points were the most ever scored by a team in the series, the margin of victory the most lopsided as the NSIC game of the week was a certified dud.

Minnesota State amassed 573 yards of offense while holding UMD to 256. Larson, who was hurt on UMD’s last play of the first half while scrambling on third down, was seen on the sidelines in the second half with ice on his left shoulder as sophomore Garrett Olson replaced him.

With the game’s outcome no longer in doubt, UMD wide receiver Quincy Woods had a Mavericks defensive back draped all over him in the fourth quarter but somehow managed to make a one-handed grab of a pass from Olson.

It would have been a 64-yard touchdown reception, but to UMD’s chagrin, and in some cases, disagreement, officials ruled Woods fumbled right before breaking the plane of the end zone and it was ruled a touchback after the ball squirted out of bounds.

That about summed it up for the Bulldogs.

Wiese said Larson’s injury isn’t season ending and that he was “day to day.” Olson, who had an 8-yard touchdown toss to Armani Carmickle to avoid the shutout and just missed a second one on the play to Woods, said he would be ready should the Bulldogs need him to start next week’s homecoming game against Wayne State.

“Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted, so we have a lot of work to do this week,” Olson said. “Every week I game plan and prepare as if I’m going to play, and I felt really good about it coming in. This was my first real game action, in a game that wasn’t a blowout, and it was a great experience. All the guys told me at the half, ‘I got your back, I got your back,’ and that was reassuring. If I’m called upon next week, I’ll lead this team. That’s my job.”


Minnesota Duluth quarterback Garrett Olson (16) is tackled by Minnesota State-Mankato's Destyn Woody (55) during Saturday's game in Mankato. Jackson Forderer / Mankato Free Press

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 or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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