College football: Defense dominates in UMD spring game
Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese was surrounded by local media on Friday at Malosky Stadium and was taken aback.
"What's this? The national championship game?" Wiese said with a laugh.
Hey, when you're the 11-time NSIC North Division champions, a perennial NCAA Division II playoff qualifier and a two-time national champion, interest is high, even if it's just a spring game. And it's even higher when you have a talented roster like the Bulldogs do.
Dain Hudson caught five passes for 62 yards to lead the Maroon squad to a 6-0 victory over the White in UMD's 45th annual Maroon-White game on a sunny day with temperatures in the 50s.
"Phenomenal," Wiese said, referring to the weather and crowd, large by spring-game standards. "I thought for the most part, our execution was good on both sides of the football. It seemed like a relatively clean game. Spring practice is really just an opportunity for our guys that haven't played a lot in the fall to be able to execute in front of a crowd. It was fun to see a nice crowd and really good atmosphere for our spring game. It's tough to beat that."
Each team was handpicked by UMD's seniors.
Defense dominated the day, admittedly so, as Wiese said the offenses kept it "vanilla." That's typical of spring games. The lone points came via the leg of Cameron Hausman, who bombed 37 and 36-yard field goals in the first half with plenty of room to spare, albeit with no pressure applied.
Another near staple of a spring game is ending it before the clock expires. After the White team's last drive stalled, it was game over, even with more than a minute left on the clock.
Among the standouts on the defensive side of the ball were a pair of local products for the Maroon, linebacker Nate Pearson (Lake Nebagamon) and defensive end Tyler Keech (Two Harbors).
Defensive back Javien Versey (Minneapolis) and linebacker Joe Kordus (Menasha, Wis.) — a University of South Dakota transfer — were among among the standouts on defense for the White, while another local product, Branden Matteen of Esko, had the game's lone interception.
"On the defensive side of the football, we have experience at all 11 positions, and whether they started every game or not is besides the point," said Wiese, adding that the No. 1 goal of the spring game is to come out of it healthy.
With starting quarterback John Larson coming off a leg injury, quarterbacks Keagan Calchera (White) and Garrett Olson (Maroon) saw plenty of action and both showed plenty of promise. Olson, a sophomore-to-be from Eden Prairie, Minn., who played for Minnetonka High School, clearly has developed a strong rapport with Hudson, who showed nice hands and quickness working out of the slot. If Olson had a fault, it's that he targeted Hudson too much at least in the early going.
Olson finished 7-for-15 for 84 yards and the one pick, while Calchera was 6-for-16 for 83 yards. His top target was Obi Ibeneme, who like Hudson caught five passes for 62 yards.
"We've got quite a bit of experience in the receiving corps, and those guys played well. It'll be receiving by committee," Wiese said. "And both our quarterbacks had their ups and downs this spring, but I thought they played well tonight. We just wanted to see them be able to execute our base stuff."
Hudson, a sophomore to be from Waukesha, Wis., caught 27 passes for 353 yards and a touchdown last season, finishing third on the team in receptions, and he looks to have an even bigger impact this year as the Bulldogs graduated standouts Jason Balts and Nate Ricci.
"I learned a lot from both those guys, and I'm still learning from Jason (a graduate assistant), just his advice and his wisdom," Hudson said. "We've got a lot of younger players who are talented, and we're just trying to build off what we learned last year."
While spring games might not mean much, they certainly help for offseason bragging rights. Hudson was asked if the Maroon had one-up on the White team members going into the summer.
"Oh yeah," he said. "The White team was talking a lot of smack today, so I'm sure Monday lifting won't be so fun for them."