Emporia State football coach Garin Higgins remembers the Hornets’ last trip to Minnesota Duluth in the 2013 NCAA Division II playoffs.
“I was too frozen to remember a lot of it,” Higgins said.
And he said it got even colder as freshman quarterback Drew Bauer rushed 14 times for a career-high 173 yards and four touchdowns to lead UMD to a 55-13 victory at Malosky Stadium.
“I think he’s still running,” Higgins said. “It got away from us after the first quarter, and when you combine that with the weather, it wasn’t good for us.”
The same programs meet at 1 p.m. Saturday, again in the first round of the playoffs, but this time in the balmy confines of Welch Stadium in Emporia, Kan.
Saturday’s forecast in Emporia calls for sunny skies and a high of 51, cooling after highs near 80 on Wednesday, when Higgins was reached by phone.
“It’s going to get a little bit colder this weekend, but it’ll be balmy for you guys,” Higgins said, laughing. “Oh, my gosh, that last meeting with Duluth, that was freezing. We didn’t have enough heaters over there.”
Higgins said he had sweats on and was overheating, so he came back in and switched to shorts.
“It’s great to be home,” said Higgins, an Oklahoma native who played quarterback at Emporia State when it was an NAIA program. “It’s the first home playoff game Emporia State has hosted since it joined Division II (in 1991), and it’s our first home playoff game since 1989, back when I was playing here, so it’s been a long time since we’ve had this opportunity.”
The 2013 playoff meeting between the teams was vintage Duluth as the Bulldogs rushed for 476 yards while holding Emporia to minus-2. Bauer only threw for 34 yards, completing 4 of 10 passes with a touchdown and interception.
The likes of Bauer, wide receiver-running back Beau Bofferding and linebacker Beau Bates - part of UMD’s 2012 recruiting class - are all back, while Emporia State has seven players suiting up Saturday who played in the 2013 game. Four of them started: offensive guard Jarrett Stastny, tight end Reese Richards, receiver Mitchell Foote and running back Antonio Brown.
This year’s teams have more in common than the 2013 matchup, with UMD’s passing attack burgeoning under Bauer’s development behind center. At 300 passing yards per game, UMD is averaging more yards through the air than on the ground for the first time since 2007.
Both teams opened this season with losses before rattling off 10 straight wins, with Emporia State falling at home 41-14 to defending national champion
Northwest Missouri State on Sept. 1 and UMD losing 42-38 at Southwest Minnesota State.
“Duluth reminds me a little bit of us,” Higgins said. “They’ve taken the same path that we have to get to this point. They’re fighters. They’re competitors because they’ve had to come back after being down. They were down last week (at St. Cloud State) before they came back and took control of that game. They’re a very good football team.”
Emporia State sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall is a dual threat throwing and running the football, much like his counterpart at UMD.
Marstall is every recruiter’s dream, a coach’s kid who grew up in Emporia and whose parents went to college there. Marstall heads the run-heavy “flexbone” formation, but he was able to show off his arm at the Hornets’ summer camp. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has thrown for 2,791 yards this season (253.7 ypg), with 24 touchdown passes to seven interceptions. He has added 533 rushing yards and seven more scores.
“I knew Braxton had a great arm, but he just played in an offense that wasn’t going to showcase it,” Higgins said. “He only played in two games his senior year after breaking his collarbone, so yeah, I think he flew under the radar a bit. Growing up here, we were recruiting him since he was a sophomore in high school. He understands the game well and doesn’t get flustered.”
Marstall has led Emporia on four fourth-quarter comebacks, giving the Hornets another similarity with UMD, which eked out three of its wins by three points and rallied from a 27-14 halftime deficit to beat St. Cloud 48-34 last week.
Sophomore Landon Nault leads Emporia with 565 rushing yards, while the 6-foot-3 Foote has caught 62 passes for 863 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Marstall played as a true freshman at Emporia State in 2014 due to injuries but was redshirted last year as senior Harlon Hill candidate Brent Wilson guided the Hornets to their first two NCAA Division II playoff wins before falling in the national quarterfinals to Northwest Missouri State.
“Braxton has stepped in for Brent, and we really haven’t missed a beat,” Higgins said. “He has gotten better each and every week and is playing with a lot of confidence. He has a really big upside. His best is yet to come.”
UMD’s Bates named NSIC defensive player of the year
Bates, UMD’s standout linebacker, was named NSIC defensive player of the year on Wednesday as the league released its all-conference teams.
Bates, a 6-foot, 235-pound senior captain from Excelsior, Minn., led the NSIC with 17 tackles for loss and was second with 11 quarterback sacks. He leads the Bulldogs with a career-high 75 tackles, 30 more than the next closest Bulldog. He has appeared in 50 games over the last four seasons, including 36 straight starts.
Bates is joined on the NSIC North Division first team by senior offensive tackle Peter Bateman, Bauer, junior offensive guard Nolan Folkert, junior wide receiver Nate Ricci, junior linebacker Zach Bassuener, sophomore defensive lineman Dre Greer and Bofferding.
Bofferding also was named to the second team as both a running back and wide receiver and was joined by sophomore offensive tackle Matt Juneau, junior tight end Keynon Phillips, senior running back Darren Walker, sophomore safety Sam Lynch and junior defensive end Nick Thorpe.
Sophomore wide receiver Jason Balts, senior offensive guard Connor Randall, senior center Willy Westerman, junior defensive lineman Karl Finkel and junior end Regis Henke were named honorable mention.
In addition, Bemidji State senior defensive back Damon Benham and junior linebacker Jamison Evans, both of Deer River, were named to the North Division first-team defense.
Augustana senior quarterback Trey Heid earned conference offensive player of the year honors for the second straight year, becoming the first to accomplish that feat since UMD running back Isaac Odim in 2009 and 2010. Southwest Minnesota State running back Max Simmons (offense) and Sioux Falls defensive back Delvin Batiste (defense) were the newcomers of the year, while Sioux Falls’ Jed Stugart was named coach of the year.