MSU football focused on learning to win close games

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State quarterback Zac Cunha (16) throws a pass during a college football game on Sept. 9 at Herb Parker Stadium in Minot.

The last two games have been eerily similar for the Minot State football team.

In a home contest against Augustana University and a road game with Southwest Minnesota State, the Beavers had a 20-14 lead heading into halftime.

Yet, they were shut out both times in the second half and eventually lost both games 28-20.

MSU fell to 0-3 and now looks to put the past behind it when it faces Winona State University this week for its homecoming game.

If the Beavers are locked in a third straight close game, MSU coach Mike Aldrich hopes his team now has the experience necessary to pull out a victory. Last season under coach Tyler Hughes, MSU was 3-0 in games decided by eight points or less, but lost every other game by 13 points or more.

“It is frustrating because I want to win and I hate losing,” Aldrich said. “But at the same time, with all the change that we’re undergoing, it’s hard to truly expect a team that’s won five games in three years to be able to say that we should know how to win every close game. That’s not where we’re at right now. There’s things that we need to fix going forward so we can win those games.”

Defensively, the Beavers are still giving up too many rushing yards (210 against Augie, 272 against SMSU). And offensively, MSU has shot itself in the foot with four combined second half turnovers in the two contests.

“I think we’re still making enough mistakes to shoot ourselves in the foot and hold us back from getting over that hump,” Aldrich said. “It stinks to lose and for that to be the reason. But on the flip side, it’s also encouraging because we’re out there and competing every game. At the end of the day, knowing that we had the ball on the last play of the game against SMSU and had an opportunity to throw the ball into the end zone to tie the game up, that’s where we need to be.”

Both games have been a mixed bag for sixth-year senior starting quarterback Zac Cunha. Cunha has given the Beavers a spark in the first half of both games, finishing with four combined touchdown passes. Yet, he’s also thrown two interceptions in each second half, including one on the final play of the game at SMSU.

Despite the inconsistent play, Aldrich voiced confidence in his experienced signal caller.

“Zac still has 100 percent faith in us and we still have 100 percent faith in him,” Aldrich said. “I think it’s really easy to look at two plays and say ‘Well he threw this interception here and this interception there.’ We wouldn’t have been in a position to throw the ball into the end zone at the end if it wasn’t for Zac. Just because he threw it with one second left and it was a tough interception, we’re not going to throw him to the wolves because of one bad pass.”

MSU takes on Winona State at 2 p.m. Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.