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College football: Punt-return touchdown sparks Mavericks to win over UMD

Minnesota State also converts a fumble recovery into a touchdown to win defensive contest.

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Logan Graetz settles in under center for Minnesota Duluth during the game against Minnesota State-Mankato at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Anna Watson / UMD Athletics
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MANKATO — Minnesota State-Mankato gave up 34 points at Bemidji State last week but somehow managed to win the football game, and that had Minnesota Duluth coach Curt Wiese concerned this week as to how UMD would play on special teams going into their NSIC showdown with the Mavericks.

It didn’t take long to get an answer.

Trey Vaval returned the first punt of the game 85 yards for a touchdown to lead Minnesota State to a 17-10 victory over the Bulldogs Saturday evening before 5,963 at Blakeslee Stadium in an early-season game that featured backup quarterbacks for both teams.

“We knew heading into this week that special teams were going to be a big part of the game, and we gave up a punt return that turned out to be just that,” Wiese said. “It not only gave up a score but it flipped the field and gave up momentum in the first half. That’s a mistake you can’t make against good teams.”

UMD was playing catch up the rest of the way in what turned out to be an old-school, bare-knuckles kind of defensive matchup between two of the most physical teams in the league year-in and year-out.

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The Bulldogs (1-1) pieced together a good drive only to stall at the Mavericks’ 2-yard line and kick a field goal. They quickly got the ball back, only for Armani Carmickle to make a nice grab but then fumble the football, with Minnesota State (2-0) recovering at the UMD 25.

Two plays later, quarterback Mitch Randall raced 21 yards and barreled into the end zone to put the Mavericks up 14-3. In a defensive contest, that punt return, that fumble, that’s all it takes.

“That was it,” Wiese said. “We knew these guys beat Bemidji on turnovers and special teams, and they did it again tonight.”

The stats after the first quarter were an anomaly.

UMD held a 124-29 advantage in yards, held the ball for 12 minutes, compared to three for the Mavericks, but trailed 14-3.

Carmickle, who broke UMD’s single-season record with 1,315 receiving yards last season, reaggravated a lower-body injury in the second quarter and didn’t play the rest of the game.

“Our defense played really well,” Wiese said. “I thought coach (Trey) Dill had our guys ready to go, and I thought Chase (Vogler) did with our offense, too, but we got out of our game plan a little bit there with the injury to Armani and didn’t have enough horsepower.”

The Bulldogs could be smarting after watching the film on this one as they had one near miss after another. With Carmickle out, they went a little more with freshman quarterback Kyle Walljasper running the football 12 times for 87 yards and touchdown in his first college game.

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With Garrett Olson in a sweatshirt and shorts on the sidelines, sophomore Logan Graetz did the bulk of the throwing but was just off on some plays, completing 6 of 22 passes for 61 yards.

Of those 61 yards, 32 came on one play where Byron Bynum made a miraculous catch. Graetz got hit on the play; otherwise, it may have been a touchdown.

“Stuff like, it’s easy to say, and talk about it now, but we missed today,” Graetz said.

There were only 22 first downs in the game, with UMD having 12 of them and a 297-257 advantage in yards. The key stat for the Mavericks was zero turnovers.

While it wasn’t Graetz’s best game, give him credit for hanging in there. He had a crazy scramble that kept UMD’s final drive alive but then it was stopped on fourth and 2 near midfield when running back Wade Sullivan was tackled for a loss of two.

“It came down to the last drive and we felt offensively, we were clicking,” Graetz said. “We were just so close on so many drives. It was just one little mistake and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. That last drive of the game, we put it all out there. Guys are banged up, guys are playing with injuries, but you’ve got to do it.

“It’s tough, it’s unlucky, but we’ll bounce back. We’re not worried about it at all.”

Minnesota Duluth returns home to host Upper Iowa at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, as part of the Bulldogs’ annual Military Appreciation Night.

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It's rare to see two teams already this banged up this early into the season. That included UMD linebacker Brad Dati, the NSIC North Division Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, limping off the field in the second half.

Mavericks coach Todd Hoffner described the contest as “an old-fashioned football game,” with hard hits, gang tackling and guys getting banged up.

The quarterbacks were often running the ball and bulldozing defenders, not looking like NFL prima donnas but old-school tough guys. Randall even had a Joe Kapp-esque jump-ball completion.

“This Duluth team is really good, but we may have put a little physicality on them,” Hoffner said. “There’s going to be a lot of soreness, but that soreness doesn’t feel so bad when you win the football game.”

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The Minnesota Duluth defense comes off the field during a break in the action Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 against Minnesota State-Mankato at Blakeslee Stadium.
Anna Watson / UMD Athletics

Minnesota Duluth 3-0-7-0—10

Minnesota State 14-3-0-0—17

First Quarter

MSU — Trey Vaval 85 punt return (Damian Chowaniec kick), 11:24

UMD — Curt Cox 19 field goal, 5:51

MSU — Mitch Randall 21 run (Chowaniec kick), 2:44

Second Quarter

MSU — Chowaniec 44 field goal, 12:56

Third Quarter

UMD — Kyle Walljasper 1 run (Cox kick), 5:05

UMD MSU

First downs.................................12 10

Rushes-yards..........................65-229 57-202

Passing yards ..........................61 112

Comp-Att-Int.......................6-23-0 9-17-0

Kick returns-yards...................2-52 2-31

Punts-avg.............................7-42.4 6-42.8

Fumbles-lost..............................2-1 1-0

Time of possession................30:40 29:20

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — UMD, Walljasper 12-87, Wade Sullivan 17-44, Byron Bynum 5-22, Josh Pitz 1-11, Logan Graetz 1-(-1). MSU, Randall 25-66, Tony Anger 2-13, Shen Butler Lawson Jr. 5-11, Nyles Williams 2-7, D.J. Barber 1-0, Christian Vasser 2-(-1), Team 2-(-2), Colin Kadolph 1-(-4).

PASSING — UMD, Graetz 6-22-0-61. MSU, Randall 9-17-0-112.

RECEIVING — UMD, Bynum 2-35, Wade Sullivan 2-8, Armani Carmickle 1-13, Zach Ojile 1-5. MSU, Jalen Sample 5-55, Nyles Williams 2-37, Tony Anger 1-15, Eric Grant 1-5.

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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