MOORHEAD — Minnesota-Duluth’s football dominance over Minnesota State Moorhead has been so lopsided, the Dragons have held a lead over the Bulldogs for only 14-1/2 minutes in the last 10 years.
The Dragons surpassed that mark in the first half alone Saturday night on Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium. But despite holding a 20-13 halftime lead, the Dragons were unable to snap a 17-game losing streak to Duluth — which hasn’t lost to MSUM since 1999.
Duluth, ranked 13th in NCAA Division II football, scored four touchdowns in the third quarter to claim a 48-20 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference win.
“Moorhead had a really good game plan and it took us one half to figure it out,” said Duluth head coach Curt Wiese, who now has a 65-12 record in seventh season. “They gave us some fits.”
But the first-half lead was not enough for the Dragons, who last beat the Bulldogs with a 20-14 win at Duluth in 1999.
“We always preach to our guys that it’s a four-quarter game,” said Dragon head coach Steve Laqua, whose team fell to 1-1. “But give them credit. They played a great second half.”
On the first play of the second half, Duluth quarterback John Larson broke a tackle for a 52-yard gain. Two plays later, Larson threw a 14-yard scoring pass to Wade Sullivan to tie it 20-20.
After Duluth’s Barry Moreland intercepted a pass, Larson threw a 25-yard scoring strike to Quincy Woods three plays later to give Duluth a 27-20 lead.
After Dragon quarterback Jakup Sinani was sacked twice, Duluth got the ball back on the Dragons’ 36-yard line. Three plays later, Larson threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Zach Ojille to make it 34-20.
With less than three minutes remaining of the third quarter, Cazz Martin scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to give Duluth a 40-20 lead.
“We didn’t make the plays that we did in the first half,” Laqua said. “Was it a case where we ran out of gas? I don’t know.”
It was a complete turnaround from the first half when Sinani completed 16 of 22 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up completing 23 of 42 passes for 286 yards.
For Duluth, it was simply a matter of getting more pressure on Sinani. The Duluth defense sacked Sinani five times and forced him to throw the ball away three times in a third quarter in which Duluth outgained the Dragons 269 to 17 in total yardage.
“Their quarterback is talented,” Wiese said of Sinani. “Getting more pressure on him was key, plus we made some coverage adjustments.”
Larson is also talented. The junior from Braham, Minn., completed 17 of 24 passes for 252 yards and also ran for 104 yards.
“He is playing like a veteran,” Wiese said.
After falling behind 6-0, the Dragons marched 65 yards for a score — a 1-yard plunge by Denver Colgrove on fourth down. The extra-point kick made it 7-6 and MSUM led the rest of the first half for the remaining 17 minutes, 12 seconds — nearly three more minutes than the time the Dragons held the lead over Duluth in the last 10 years.
The Dragons expanded their lead to 14-6 after Jakup Sinani threw a 34-yard scoring strike to Ryan Harvey-Turner who outleaped the Duluth defender for the ball in the right front corner of the endzone.
An unsportsmanlike penalty on the Dragons helped Duluth start its next drive near midfield. Five plays later, Wade Sullivan scored on a three-yard touchdown run to cut the Dragon lead to 14-13.
With just over five minutes remaining of the first half, Ryan Bieberdorf hauled in a short pass from Sinani and broke free for a 54-yard touchdown. The Dragons had a chance to expand that 20-13 lead after a Blake Wilkins interception near midfield. But the Dragons came away with nothing when Hobet Diaz’ 34-yard field goal bounced off the right upright.