College football: UMD downs St. Cloud State in "Battle for the Bone"

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Minnesota Duluth wide receiver Jason Balts' nephew Noah Smith of Spooner, Wis., was in attendance for the NSIC Thursday Night Game of the Week and, afterward, Smith threw Balts a maroon UMD football.

Maddie MacFarlane / St. Cloud State Athletics Wade Sullivan (26) and Jackson Riley (87) of Minnesota Duluth celebrate after a touchdown during Thursday's game at St. Cloud State. UMD won 41-17.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Minnesota Duluth wide receiver Jason Balts’ nephew Noah Smith of Spooner, Wis., was in attendance for the NSIC Thursday Night Game of the Week and, afterward, Smith threw Balts a maroon UMD football.

Balts’ left hand was holding his helmet, so he promptly caught the miniature football with his free hand. Balts has made a habit of making one-handed grabs, as the senior captain did again in helping the No. 16 Bulldogs bounce St. Cloud State 41-17 before 3,077 at Husky Stadium in the teams’ annual “Battle for the Bone” traveling trophy game.

Sophomore quarterback John Larson spearheaded UMD’s offensive attack, passing for 188 yards and two TDs and rushing for 27 yards and another score. The prettiest of his 16 completions was a 48-yarder to Balts in the first half. Balts dropped his left hand to shed the receiver while hauling the ball in with his right.

“Guys were saying I caught that one-handed,” Balts said. “I maybe got my off hand on in late, but I’m not really sure to be honest. Credit to John. He threw an easy ball. I didn’t think I got a great release, but he dropped it right in there and the offensive line, obviously, did great up front.”

UMD largely dominated the first half but St. Cloud State had its chances to make it closer. After getting on the scoreboard on Jathan Gizman’s 9-yard touchdown reception from Dwayne Lawhorn, the Huskies quickly got the ball back, only to fumble it away as UMD senior linebacker Gus Wedig forced it and Isaac Erdmann recovered it.


“I saw an offensive lineman pulling and I got under him,” the 6-foot-4 Wedig said. “The running back was right there and I must have got my helmet on the ball because it popped right out. I do manage to get low. Playing the way I do, you have to get lower than the big boys up front. It was a very big play.”

St. Cloud State forced a turnover when Larson threw low to Wade Sullivan, who tried to dig the ball out only for it to pop right up for an easy pick. The interception led to a Huskies field goal just before the half to make it 27-10.

UMD started the second half with a monster 14-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes, 29 seconds. It was capped by a Larson-to-Nate Ricci 20-yard TD toss. Sullivan scored his second touchdown late in the quarter to effectively put the game away.

UMD was a combined 12-for-20 on third and fourth downs, while St. Cloud was just 3-for-13, largely because of inefficiency on first down. Huskies quarterback Dwayne Lawhorn was 7-for-23 passing for 100 yards, with a touchdown and interception.

“That’s what I love about our defense,” Wedig said. “We always find a way to respond, and the best thing about our offense is they know how to respond, too. They’ll keep the ball for 8 minutes and give us a chance to adjust, which is awesome. Can’t give them enough credit.”

UMD (3-0) has 22 seniors. St. Cloud State (2-1) just seven, including none on the offensive line. The Huskies are in a bit of a rebuild, though don’t tell that to a program that is just five years removed from a 12-2 season.

One of those youngsters is Cloquet guard Dylan Lauer, one of only two true freshmen to play on the offensive line in Underwood’s 11 seasons. Lauer was thrust into a starting role after one lineman transferred and another didn’t come back after spring ball.

“He’s a good one, but it wasn’t our intention to have a true freshman playing,” Underwood said of Lauer. “He’s getting better every week, but the game is a lot faster than high school. He just needs to see more snaps and get stronger in the weight room.”


The victory sets UMD up for a NSIC North game next week against a Bemidji State team that likely will be 3-0.

UMD coach Curt Wiese was using crutches Thursday. He had a serious scope of his right knee on Monday but felt fine until he took a step after an early score and said it felt like his “kneecap went into his quad.” And it was crutches from then on.

Wiese will have the knee looked at as soon as possible but in the meantime was keeping his sense of humor about it.

“If I’m the only one on crutches after this game we’re doing OK,” he said.


Minn. Duluth 7-20-14-0-41
St. Cloud St. 0-10-0-7-17 First QuarterUMD - Bryce Heim 2 run (Dan Branger kick), 6:37 Second QuarterUMD - Wade Sullivan 3 run (Branger kick), 13:49
UMD - Jason Balts 48 pass from John Larson (Branger kick), 8:28
SCS - Nathan Gizma 9 pass from Dwayne Lawhorn (Adam Stage kick), 6:15
UMD - Larson 9 run (conversion failed), 4:03
SCS - Stage 32 field goal, 0:40 Third QuarterUMD - Nate Ricci 20 pass from Larson (Branger kick)
UMD - Sullivan 12 run (Branger kick) Fourth QuarterSCS - Curtwan Evans 1 run (Stage kick), 11:45 SCS UMDFirst downs..................................17 10
Rushes-yards.......................45-162 24-86
Passing....................................188 105
Comp-Att-Int......................16-27-1 8-25-1
Kick returns-yards.................3-95 4-36
Punts-yards..........................3-43.5 7-37.7
Fumbles-lost..............................0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards........................9-75 6-40
Time of possession................38:22 21:38 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRUSHING - UMD, Wade Sullivan 11-39, John Larson 8-27, Alex Lasinski 6-25, Bryce Heim 8-25, Tory Adams 4-18, Jason Balts 2-11, Nate Ricci 1-8, Dain Hudson 1-7, Mike Rybarczak 2-4. SCSU. Gregory Lewis 7-48, Curtwan Evans 12-33, Dwayne Lawhorn 12-33, Dakar Williams 1-1, Matt Winters 1-1.PASSING - UMD, Larson 16-27-188-1. SCSU, Lawhorn 7-23-100-1, Justin Czech 1-2-5-0.RECEIVING - UMD, Ricci 3-60, Balts 2-56, Nick Eliason 2-24, Zach Ojile 3-16, Sullivan 2-14, J. McCormick 2-10, Dain Hudson 1-4, Obi Ibeneme 1-4. SCSU, John Solberg 3-41, Anthony Carver 1-38, John Pass 1-12, Nathan Gizma 1-9, Tanner Tiege 1-5, Evans 1-0.

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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