College football: UMD looks to bounce back against Moorhead

Bulldogs face Dragons on homecoming after a tough NSIC loss last week at Sioux Falls.

football game on foggy evening
Minnesota Duluth running back Wade Sullivan (26) and Minnesota Duluth tight end Zach Ojile (33) celebrate a touchdown against Upper Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Malosky Stadium in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth’s 34-31 NSIC loss at Sioux Falls last week had some Bulldogs fans graveling, in particular, over two pass interference calls and two potential missed face masks in the second half.

UMD coach Curt Wiese took the high road Wednesday saying the Bulldogs had their chances to not let it come down to a call here or a call there.

“It definitely wasn’t officiated to put us in the loss column,” Wiese said. “In every game there’s calls that could have gone our way. It is what it is. We held our own destiny and we didn’t close it out.”

UMD (2-2) will look to bounce back this week when the Bulldogs host Minnesota State-Moorhead (1-3) in their NSIC North Division opener at noon Saturday on homecoming at Malosky Stadium.

Despite two losses, the Bulldogs aren’t giving up hope of making their sixth NCAA Division II playoff appearance in Wiese’s nine seasons.


Wiese credited UMD’s veteran leadership with helping the Bulldogs regroup and refocus.

“The mood has been good. I think we understand our position right now,” Wiese said. “We have goals and playoff aspirations and a chance to win a conference championship. Our backs are against the wall a little bit but there is a lot of season left.”

UMD made the NCAA playoffs last year despite having two regular-season losses but this year appears a little more daunting.

UMD’s remaining schedule features games against NSIC North Division rival Bemidji State (2-2) and South Division opponents Augustana (4-0) and Northern State (2-2) — all on the road — with those latter two closing out the regular season.

If UMD wins out the Bulldogs would certainly have a strong postseason argument. They had undefeated Sioux Falls (4-0) against the ropes and couldn’t overcome a punt return for touchdown and fumble at Minnesota State-Mankato (3-1).

“On the bright side we played some good teams on the road and had the opportunity to beat both of them but unfortunately, failed the test in both situations at crunch time,” Wiese said. “A lot of things could have gone our way, or we let things not go our way, to lose those games.”

UMD took a 31-27 lead with 6:53 last week at Sioux Falls as quarterback Garrett Olson found Byron Bynum for a touchdown from seven yards out.

The Bulldogs got the ball back on Dayvia Gbor’s interception, drove the football into the red zone, where their drive stalled and kicker Curt Cox missed a 26-yard field goal.


“We had first-and-goal inside the 6-yard line with 2 1/2 minutes to go and didn’t win the game,” Wiese said. “It was a bad kick, and you feel bad for kickers in those situations. They’re not trying to miss those situations. Next time he winds up you’ve got to believe he’s going to hit it.”

Sioux Falls responded as Thuro Reisdorfer’s 2-yard touchdown plunge capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took only 1 minutes, 51 seconds off the clock as the Cougars took a 34-31 lead with 45 seconds left.

That’s how it would stay as UMD ran out of time, making the six-hour, 390-mile drive back to Duluth feel that much longer.

The Bulldogs’ offense received a boost with the return of Olson, a senior who hadn’t played since Week 1 due to a lower-body injury. Olson finished 14-for-25 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns, with his top target being Bynum, who caught five passes for 42 yards and all three of Olson’s touchdown tosses.

Quarterback Kyle Walljasper spelled Olson and carried 17 times for 73 yards and another touchdown as the Bulldogs continue to use the freshman as a run-heavy signal caller.

The game was surprisingly high-scoring, as Sioux Falls had the top-ranked scoring defense in the league going in at 12.3 points per game and UMD was third at 14.7.

“I was pretty surprised by the scoring, to be honest,” Wiese said. “They’re two pretty run dominant football teams. Garrett came back and gave us a spark and Kyle Walljasper continues to give us a little different look at the QB position. It was a back-and-forth football game, all four quarters. Both sides were throwing punches, and it was just going to be last-man standing and unfortunately, we weren't.”

What: NSIC North Division football opener; UMD’s homecoming
When: noon Saturday
Where: Malosky Stadium
Records: Moorhead 1-3, UMD 2-2
Forecast: mostly cloudy with a high of 55 and 18 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM & 103.9 FM


National rankings: Neither team is ranked.
Series: This used to be the best rivalry in the NSIC but has been dominated by the Bulldogs for more than two decades. UMD is 41-17-4 all-time against the Dragons in a series that dates to 1932, the second year of intercollegiate football at UMD, and 19-0 since 1999. That streak nearly came to an end Oct. 2, 2021, but after a slow start offensively, the Bulldogs rallied for a 26-21 victory capped by Logan Graetz’s 8-yard touchdown toss to Armani Carmickle with two seconds remaining as UMD escaped Moorhead with the win.
Coaches: Steve Laqua is 49-66 in 11 seasons at Moorhead; Curt Wiese is 82-20 in nine seasons at UMD.
Outlook: Minnesota State-Moorhead is coming off a 40-7 loss at Winona State as the Warriors had 439 yards of offense and intercepted Dragons quarterback Jack Strand three times. Strand finished 28-for-47 for 203 yards and a touchdown. … UMD is coming of a 34-31 loss at Sioux Falls as senior Thuro Reisdorfer rushed three 19 times for 100 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 45 seconds remaining as he was named NSIC Offensive Player of the Week. UMD senior quarterback Garrett Olson returned from injury to throw for 155 yards and three touchdowns, all to Byron Bynum. UMD is still waiting on the return of record-setting receiver Armani Carmickle from a lower-body injury, with coach Curt Wiese calling Carmickle’s situation “day-to-day.” Senior captain Brad Dati, a linebacker, led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles while Dayvia Gbor had an interception. Gbor, a senior defensive back, has all three of UMD’s interceptions this season.
Rare noon start
Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State-Moorhead are playing at noon at Malosky Stadium to help give athletic staff additional time with UMD men’s hockey opening the season against Arizona State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
UMD football decided to stick with the noon starts for the Bulldogs’ other two home games, Oct. 8 against Mary and Oct. 29 against Minot State.
Former UMD sports information director Bob Nygaard said the Bulldogs played some noon games during their stint in the North Central Conference from 2004-08, to give the opposing team an extra hour for the road trip home, but it is otherwise quite rare unless it’s a playoff contest.
Around the league
The NSIC South Division is a combined 21-7 against their North opponents through four weeks this season, including 6-1 last week. Four of the South’s losses belong to Upper Iowa (0-4). Three South teams (Augustana, Sioux Falls and Wayne State) are undefeated at 4-0 and three are 3-1.
As lopsided as last week may have appeared, four of the North’s losses were by eight points or fewer, including one that went to overtime.
Sioux Falls is at rival Augustana at 1 p.m. in an NSIC game of the week.
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune

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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