EMPORIA, KAN. - Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese was blunt after being asked which play hurt the Bulldogs on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“Which one?” he said.
Yep, there were a lot that hurt.
Sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall threw for a career-high 481 yards and five touchdowns to lead No. 9 Emporia State to a 59-26 victory over No. 13 Minnesota Duluth before 5,104 at Welch Stadium in the Hornets’ first NCAA playoff home game.
Marstall completed 26 of 39 passes with no interceptions as UMD’s youthful and injury-depleted secondary had no answer for the Hornets (11-1), who won their 11th straight in advancing to play at defending national champion Northwest Missouri State (11-0) in next weekend’s Sweet 16.
“Offensively we were able to hit on all cylinders,” Emporia State coach Garin Higgins said. “We hadn’t had a whole lot of explosive plays throughout the course of the year, but we able to get going (on Saturday).”
UMD fans who watched the game could give a collective, “Could have fooled me.” Based on Saturday, the Hornets were one of the greatest offensive juggernauts ever assembled. Marstall’s five TD passes averaged 47 yards apiece.
The teams combined for 1,071 yards, with 821 coming through the air. In the end, UMD (10-2) just couldn’t keep up.
“The game plan was pretty simple,” Marstall said. “We felt we matched up better. If you see 1-on-1 on the outside, we felt our guys were better than their guys. We’ve got athletes, so give them a chance to go out there and make plays. They make my job way easier.”
Senior quarterback Drew Bauer threw for 340 yards to break Ted Schlafke’s 2005 UMD single-season passing record. Bauer had two touchdowns and two interceptions in the final game of his stellar four-year career with the Bulldogs (10-2), who had their 10-game winning streak snapped. UMD was playing in its 10th NCAA tournament, and eighth in the past nine years.
Bauer was sacked eight times, with five coming in the second half as UMD fell behind and became predictable and Emporia State took control. One of those sacks came via a forced fumble that led to the final score of the game.
“The bottom line is we needed to make stops defensively, and we can’t turn the ball over offensively,” Wiese said.
Bauer also had 56 of UMD’s 130 rushing yards, but they didn’t come easy as the Bulldogs only averaged three yards a carry.
“They’re really big, athletic and lanky,” Bauer said. “They schemed us up well and made some adjustments at the half. They’re really strong up front, and with those four guys, they can drop seven in coverage and still put pressure on, that really stiffens up the defense.”
UMD was held to a season-low 26 points, with seven coming on Jason Balts’ 90-yard kickoff return in the first half. The Bulldogs finished just shy of the program record of 46.5 points per game set in 2012.
On the flip side, Emporia State finished with 601 yards, a season high against UMD, including 311 in the first half in taking a 28-20 lead. Still, UMD had to feel pretty good going into the locker room. The Bulldogs were putting pressure on defensively and moving the ball on offense. They had five of their six quarterback sacks in the first half to finish with a program-record 52, breaking the record of 49 set in 2008.
But sometimes when you blitz, you get burned.
In a season where UMD yielded a record number of points, this one was the worst.
Bulldogs senior safety Tavaughn Blair was battling a hamstring injury in recent weeks and the Hornets saw something they liked and picked on him. Blair was visibly gimpy chasing on one of those plays and was taken out.
Emporia’s Louis Dailey (six receptions, 135 yards, two TDs) and Morris Williams II (4-134-2) were Marstall’s top targets, but they all looked the same. Higgins admitted the Hornets would air one out, replace the receiver with a fresh guy, and then go back to the exact same play, often with success.
Williams said the trick to catching the football is “watch the tip, catch the fat.” It looked pretty simple. Whenever a Hornets receiver was isolated on the outside, they threw a go route.
“Coach told us all week we had to win those 1-on-1 matchups,” Williams said. “He got on me all week, just beat them with speed. Don’t do too much dancing at the line.”
Minnesota Duluth 13-7-6-0-26
Emporia State 14-14-14-17-59
ESU - Braxton Marstall 18 run (Austin Mortin kick), 10:51
UMD - Jason Balts 38 pass from Drew Bauer (pass failed), 5:59
ESU - Louis Dailey 45 pass from Marstall (Morton kick), 5:07
UMD - Darren Walker 16 pass from Bauer (Tyler McLaughlin kick), 2:00
ESU - Morris Williams 60 pass from Marstall (Morton kick), 9:26
UMD - Balts 90 kickoff return (McLaughlin kick), 9:15
ESU - Dailey 64 pass from Marstall (Morton kick), 4:40
ESU - Mitchell Foote 19 pass from Marstall (Morton kick), 11:57
ESU - Williams 46 pass from Marstall (Morton kick), 10:59
UMD - Nolan Folkert 1 run (rush failed), 6:13
ESU - Landon Nault 12 run (Morton kick), 12:49
ESU - Morton 32 field goal, 10:58
ESU - A.J. West 35 fumble return (Morton kick), 8:55
First downs 27 26
Rushes-yards 44-130 36-120
Passing 340 481
Comp-Att-Int 27-46-2 26-41-0
Kick returns-yards 5-171 5-84
Punts-yards 3-26.3 3-38
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-25 3-32
Time of possession 32:29 25:50
RUSHING - UMD, Bauer 23-56, Walker 15-50, Beau Bofferding 2-12, Balts 1-6, Jaleen Jones 1-6, Folkert 1-1, Team 1-(-1). ESU, Nault 16-88, Lowe 2-14, Marstall 12-0, Denzel Strong 2-5, Antonio Brown 3-3, Jordan Reed 1-0.
PASSING - UMD, Bauer 27-46-2-340. ESU, Braxton Marshall 26-39-5-481, Jaylen Lowe 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING - UMD, Balts 7-137, Bofferding 6-83, Ricci 4-41, Obi Ibeneme 3-32, Walker 1-16, Kenyon Phillips 1-13, Conner James 1-10, Alex Lasinski 1-8. ESU, Dailey 6-135, Williams 4-134, Brown 1-70, Foote 5-69, Lowe 2-30, Buffalomeat 1-13, Proffitt 1-12, Richards 1-8, Brown 1-6, Oliver 1-4.