Minnesota Duluth quarterback John Larson scrambled on the Bulldogs’ first play of their nationally-ranked NSIC showdown Saturday with Minnesota State-Mankato and did a kind-of awkward slide before getting hit by a Mavericks defender.
Larson said the play was helmet-to-helmet and perhaps a tad late, and apparently, the officials agreed as Minnesota State was tagged with a personal foul.
“Right from the get go,” Larson said of the hit. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was surprised, but I wasn’t going to sit there and talk to them.”
Oh no, the senior from Braham, Minnesota, lets his play do the talking.
Larson was 11-for-21 passing for 166 yards and a touchdown, and he added nine carries for 43 yards and two more scores as the 20th-ranked Bulldogs bounced the third-ranked Mavericks 30-10 before a record crowd of 6,536 at Malosky Stadium as part of Military Appreciation Weekend. UMD's Military Appreciation football helmet was even featured on ESPN's College GameDay Saturday morning.
After that personal foul call to start the game, the Bulldogs' first home game of the season, Larson connected with wide receiver Armani Carmickle on a 42-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.
“That first drive was something special,” Larson said. “We took a shot and set the tone right then. Those first 10 plays are all scripted, so I knew what was coming. I said, ‘Watch this.’”
What a difference from two years ago.
“Night and day,” Larson said.
UMD (2-0) hadn’t beaten Minnesota State (1-1) since 2011, a span of five straight defeats. The loss snaps the Mavericks' 36-game NSIC winning streak that began on November 5, 2016, against Wayne State.
The last time these teams met, Oct. 5, 2019, in Mankato, Minnesota State humbled UMD with a 52-7 rout that was the most lopsided loss for a proud Bulldogs program in two decades. The Mavericks went on to finish as national runner-up.
As bad as that loss was for UMD, it really stung for Larson, who got knocked out in the second quarter with a dislocated shoulder. And you can bet that crossed his mind when the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder got tagged on the first play of the game.
“I remembered it, through the offseasons, through the practices, when this game got announced,” Larson said. “You remember getting your (expletive) kicked.”
While UMD’s defense forced early three-and-outs, UMD scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and another early in the second to take a commanding 21-3 lead.
UMD’s defense, which got interceptions from Paxton Woods and Marcus Glodowski, held Kaleb Sleezer, who led the Mavericks’ ground-and-pound rushing attack with 18 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown last week, to just 19 yards on 20 carries.
“We knew that their secondary was going to fill hard, their line was stout and their passing game was spectacular,” Sleezer said. “We just had to execute a little better, and I could have done better on my part, too. We need to do better everywhere.
“Same thing happened in this game that happened two years ago, except the opposite. This time, they scored on the first play.”
Sleezer remembered well.
Shane Zylstra, who was added to the Detroit Lions practice squad earlier this month, opened that game by hauling in an 80-yard TD pass from Ryan Schlichte.
This time, of course, it was Larson and Carmickle.
UMD coach Curt Wiese said it went beyond Xs and Os. The “Bulldog Walk” 40 minutes before game time featured a flyover.
“Our town and community set the tone right from the start,” Wiese said. “We had a lot of energy in the stadium tonight. Our guys felt it, and they embraced it. I’m really proud of the way we executed in all three phases. That was probably the most energy we’ve ever had going through the pregame tailgate.”
“This Military Appreciation Weekend has a special way of motivating people,” he said. “It inspires you. You come to a game and you can relax because there are people overseas fighting for you and I can just play football. I’m just thankful.”
Minnesota State 3-7-0-0—10
Minnesota Duluth 14-10-6-0—30
UMD — Armani Carmickle 42 pass from John Larson (Curt Cox kick), 12:12
UMD — Cazz Martin 8 run (Cox kick), 9:02
MSU — Luke Williams 24 field goal, 2:25
UMD — Larson 4 rush (Cox kick), 9:18
MSU — Tanner Johnson 10 pass from J.D. Ekowa (Williams kick), 6:24
UMD — Cox 28 field goal, 0:12
UMD — Larson 11 rush (kick blocks), 0:04
First downs.................................13 17
Passing yards ..........................145 166
Kick returns-yards...................5-80 3-65
Time of possession................26:07 33:53
RUSHING — MSU, Hayden Ekern 8-74, Kaleb Sleezer 20-19, Deyon Campbell 1-9, Micah Cooper 1-3, Nyles Williams 1-3, Christian Vasser 1-0, Ekowa 6-(-7). UMD, Martin 12-59, Larson 9-43, Wade Sullivan 7-41, Zach Ojile 2-3, TEAM 2-(-4).
PASSING — MSU, Ekowa 8-20-98-1, Ekern 5-11-47-0. UMD, Larson 11-21-166-1.
RECEIVING — MSU, Jalen Sample 4-62, Williams 3-33, Sleezer 2-3, Gabe Hagen 1-18, Park Gloudemans 1-12, Johnson 1-10, Campbell 1-7, Eric Grant 1-0. UMD, Carmickle 3-63, Kurtis Weigand 3-22, 2-65, Sam Pitz 1-13, Johnny McCormick 1-6, Byron Bynum 1-(-3), Martin 1-0, Sullivan 1-0.