Minnesota Duluth quarterback John Larson said he gravitated toward Chase Vogler as soon as Vogler returned to his alma mater in 2019 to take over as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.

But it wasn’t the silly video game numbers that Vogler put up in four seasons as much as the national championship UMD won in 2010 that impressed Larson the most.

“Everyday I’ll go see coach Vogler about play calling, what he likes, and what he saw when he was playing quarterback, which is really cool to relate to,” Larson said. “He can say, ‘Oh yeah, when I was here, this is how we played and this is what I did and this is what I was looking for.’ That just made the relationship grow faster.”

Last week Larson, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior from Braham, Minn., joined Vogler, Ted Schlafke, Drew Bauer and Rick Fritz as members of the “5K Club,” those UMD quarterbacks who have thrown for 5,000 yards in their Bulldogs careers.

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Larson will look to add to that total when No. 11 UMD (3-0) hosts Wayne State (2-1) in an NSIC football game at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Malosky Stadium.

Larson threw for 206 yards and a touchdown in UMD’s 29-23 NSIC victory at Winona State and now has 5,079 for his career.

This season Larson has thrown for 837 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s good for 279 passing yards per game and a rating of 179.64.

“Obviously, I trust in all of coach Vogler’s play calls, and it’s been working out for us so far this year,” Larson said. “When we come out, he doesn’t want us to start slow, so he dials up some things where big plays happen.”

That included a 63-yard flea-flicker to Armani Carmickle on UMD’s first play last week and a 42-year touchdown reception to Carmickle on UMD’s second play two weeks ago in a 30-10 home victory over national power Minnesota State-Mankato.

While Vogler was the proverbial playmaker who improvised with his feet, Larson is more in the Bauer mode, with a strong arm and big body.

“In his sixth year here John has kind of become an extended part of the coaching staff on the field, getting us into good situations and getting us out of bad situations,” Vogler said. “We do a good job listening to John, because he has a pretty good idea of what’s going on and is usually right about that stuff. So having someone like that, who has that experience on the field, is a big benefit to us.”

Larson could have already graduated and gone his merry way but he took advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA and has returned, apparently on a mission.

“John has prepared at another level this year and it shows on game days,” Vogler said. “He’s seeing things, picking routes earlier, understanding what the defense is giving him. We’ve seen that through three games now, so hopefully we can keep it going.”

Bulldog breaks out

Vogler was asked what the biggest difference has been with Larson this season compared to 2019.

“I think his confidence in his receivers,” Vogler said. “We were OK at receiver in 2019. We broke off a lot of routes; maybe we weren’t in the right spot a lot or the right depth. This year we’ve rolled four guys who are super consistent, have done a great job and really make plays when they’ve been there.”

UMD senior wide receiver Armani Carmickle jogs during practice at Malosky Stadium Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
UMD senior wide receiver Armani Carmickle jogs during practice at Malosky Stadium Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Nobody comes to mind more in that regard than Carmickle. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound wide receiver from Kenosha, Wisconsin, leads the Bulldogs in receptions (11), receiving yards (412) and touchdowns (four). That tops the 346 receiving yards he had in all of 2019, his first year at UMD after transferring from Northwest Missouri State.

Carmickle is listed as a senior but plans on taking advantage of his extra year of eligibility and that’s good news for Bulldogs fans.

“Ever since Armani has come in, he’s been a class act, a great human,” Larson said. “In 2019 he had an up-and-down season, making some plays for us, but I don’t know … something just clicked in his head where he realized what he’s capable of and I’d say through three games he’s shown all of that and then some. He combines elite athleticism, great hands and exceptional route running.”

Movin’ on up

UMD is up two spots to No. 11 in the latest American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II rankings. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 23 in the AFCA preseason poll before rattling off three straight wins.

Fellow NSIC schools Minnesota State-Mankato (2-1) and Augustana (3-0) are ranked Nos. 20 and 22, respectively. Augustana is ranked for the first time since September 26, 2016.

Injury update

Minnesota Duluth defensive back Javien Versey was injured two week ago in the win over Minnesota State and is out for the season with a “lower body injury,” according to UMD coach Curt Wiese.

Versey, a senior from Minneapolis Patrick Henry, had three solos and an assist in that game against the Mavericks. He appeared in nine games in 2019 and had 10 tackles, including two for loss. In addition, he had a 41-yard punt return touchdown and caught a pass for 28 yards. He is expected to be back with the Bulldogs next season.

WAYNE STATE AT NO. 11 MINNESOTA DULUTH

What: NSIC football game

When: 6:05 p.m. Saturday

Where: Malosky Stadium

Records: Wayne State 2-1, UMD 3-0

Forecast: afternoon sun with a high of 63 and 15 mph wind

TV: My9 Sports Network

Internet: nsicnetwork.com/umdbulldogs

Radio: KTCO-FM 98.9

WAYNE STATE AT MINNESOTA DULUTH

National rankings: Wayne State isn’t ranked; Minnesota Duluth is ranked No. 11 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll and by d2football.com.

Series: UMD holds a 14-1 lead, including a 21-7 victory Oct. 12, 2019, on homecoming at Malosky Stadium as the Bulldogs tamed the Wildcats with a 286-104 advantage in yards.

Coaches: John McMenamin is in his first season as Wayne State football coach. He was named head coach in December 2019 but didn't coach the Wildcats in a game for more than 18 months after the 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID-19. Curt Wiese is 74-15 in his eighth season at UMD.

Outlook: Wayne State is coming off a 48-0 home victory over Minot State as Deshawn Massey rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. Sophomore quarterback Tavian Willis added 137 passing yards and another score. Willis has been efficient this season, completing 43 of 76 passes for 608 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

UMD, which got 206 passing yards and a touchdown from senior quarterback John Larson, held on for a 29-23 victory last week at Winona State as the Warriors rallied from a 26-3 halftime deficit by outscoring the Bulldogs 20-3 the rest of the way.

“Obviously, we didn’t start slow, and that was kind of a big worry going in, having a letdown after a big win against Mankato the week before,” UMD offensive coordinator Chase Vogler said. “Football is a game of two halves, and now, we have to do a better job of reacting to what they do in the second half.”

UMD defense kept Winona State fairly one-dimensional for the most part, holding the Warriors to 26 rushes for zero yards, but ultimately it was the pass defense that stopped them at the end. Linebackers Brad Dati and Cole Refsnider led the way with seven tackles apiece while defensive backs Justic’e King and Michael Kirkendoll added six tackles apiece.

UMD leads the 14-team NSIC with 36 penalties for 376 yards, or 125.3 yards per game. While that is certainly cause for concern, Bulldogs coach Curt Wiese has a hard time finding fault for his players being aggressive. And it’s any consolation, Minnesota State-Mankato (80 ypg) and Bemidji State (73.3 ypg) — two really good programs — were second and third, respectively. Wayne State was eighth at 58.7 penalty yards per game.

“Obviously we have to take care of Wayne,” Larson said. “It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you want to make the playoffs, you want to do something special with the season, but if we take Wayne State lightly they’ll take no pity on us, and if they come in here and beat us, who knows what happens then? We’d be clawing just to get into the playoffs. If we take it one week at a time we’ll be in control.”

— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune