Winona State University senior running back Chichi Ojika took a handoff on the second play from scrimmage Saturday and found space up the sideline for an 82-yard touchdown.
It was a sign of things to come, as the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder and the Winona offense routinely gashed Minot State University for big gains.
Ojika carried the ball 18 times for 242 yards and WSU averaged more than 10 yards per play as the Warriors crushed MSU 49-14 in front of a homecoming crowd of 3,036 at Herb Parker Stadium.
Winona State defensive end Anthony Frisby,left, forces a fumble by Minot State University tight end Kwajo Bonsu on Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.
"That kid was a Minnesota (high school) 200-meter champ kid, so he can run," Winona coach Tom Sawyer said of Ojika. "You just need a little bit of space when you're a small kid like that."
The Warriors' big-play ability made the difference in a sloppy game. MSU (1-3) fumbled the ball eight times - losing three - before intermission. The Beavers finished with nine fumbles, with four resulting in turnovers.
Winona quarterback Jack Nelson threw both of his interceptions in the first half and the Warriors (2-2) also lost two fumbles before the break.
"There wasn't much flow to the whole game when it's back and forth like that," MSU coach Paul Rudolph said. "A fumble here and pick there, and a fumble here and a pick there - it was kind of give it away, take it away. There wasn't a real good rhythm. I thought it was kind of an ugly football game all around."
WSU opened the game with 28 straight points. Nelson had a hand in the three scores following Ojika's early TD. The 6-4 freshman scrambled in from 17 yards out to make it 14-0 and then tossed long touchdown passes on the next two scores.
MSU got on the board with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the second quarter. MSU sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha tossed a jump ball to wideout Porter Sturm from 17 yards out. The athletic sophomore rose above a Winona defensive back to haul in the reception.
In the second half, Ojika continued to burst into the MSU secondary for large chunks of yardage. He reeled off a 27-yard run on Winona's first offensive play of the third quarter, then exploded for a 43-yard touchdown two plays later for a 35-7 advantage.
Junior college transfer Kwajo Bonsu scored his first MSU touchdown with 5:12 remaining in the third quarter to make it 35-14. The 6-foot-7, 275-pound tight end snagged the over-the-middle pass in traffic and took a couple of lumbering steps into the end zone.
Nelson threw for another score and found the end zone on a 1-yard sneak to account for the final margin.
The game lasted 3 hours, 20 minutes as both teams racked up more than 140 yards in penalties.
Cunha completed 28 of 52 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, but said the Beavers made too many mistakes to compete. Cunha was sacked eight times, including seven in the first half.
"We were good through the air today, but we fumbled the ball," he said. "You can't win with that."
Sturm caught five passes for 91 yards and senior Wayne Peters had a game-high nine receptions for 75 yards.
Redshirt freshman Jarvis Mustipher became the first MSU runner this season to break the 100-yard mark, carrying 16 times for 113 yards.
But Mustipher also fumbled the ball twice - including once after a 41-yard gain - and Rudolph wasn't optimistic about his performance.
"It's never positive when you put the ball on the ground," he said. "We don't protect the ball well enough, so it's tough to find too many positives when you don't protect the football."
MSU travels to in-state rival University of Mary (2-2) on Saturday for the teams' first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division matchup. The Beavers beat the Marauders 32-21 last season.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.