Defensive stand

Three straight sacks gives MSU Battle of the Big Lake trophy for 2nd straight year

Garrick Hodge/MDN Various members of the Minot State football team pose with the Battle of the Big Lake trophy after defeating the University of Mary 21-20 on Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.

It was only fitting that three seniors made three consecutive plays to seal Minot State’s second straight Battle of the Big Lake victory against rival University of Mary Saturday.

In the 2016 regular season finale, the Beavers culminated a defensive stand in the final minute with three consecutive sacks to force a Marauders turnover on downs and seal a 21-20 victory at Herb Parker Stadium on senior day.

“Playing in a really close battle like that, it was pretty special to see the guys go out that way,” MSU coach Tyler Hughes said. “They’ll be special to me for a long time. I’m really grateful for them and their contributions to the program. They’re great guys and men now, they’re not kids anymore. They’re moving on and we’re incredibly excited for what they’re going to do with their lives.”

It looked like the script was setting up for a different ending on Mary’s last drive. Needing a field goal to steal a road victory with around 3 minutes remaining, Mary drove to Minot’s 38-yard line. On second-and-1, Minot State dialed up a blitz package for senior linebacker Trevin Swensen. Swensen and senior defensive lineman Loni Fonua delivered by sacking Mary quarterback Nick McCann for an eight-yard loss.

“I couldn’t have wrote it any better,” Swensen said. “They called a blitz to my side and the first thing I thought of was ‘Man, it would be cool to end on a sack.’ That’s exactly what happened.”

Without any timeouts remaining and the clock ticking under 2 minutes, the Marauders had to run the hurry-up offense.

Senior defensive lineman Dalton Houghton prepared to rush the passer in an obvious passing situation and beat his man on a bull rush to pick up a sack on the next play. On fourth-and-11, Fonua sent the Minot sideline into a frenzy with the Beavers’ third straight quarterback takedown.

“It was awesome and a nerve-wrecking game for sure,” Houghton said. “For the defense to have an opportunity to go out there and win it like that, to come through and play their hearts out was incredible. It was just nice to come back and get this win.”

The Beavers once trailed 20-7 in the first half, but inched closer with a blocked punt recovered by Ryan Fila in the end zone just before the first half ended to reduce the Marauder’s lead to 20-14.

Minot State’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half to allow its offense to complete the second half comeback. Beavers senior quarterback Jose Escobar engineered a nine-play drive extending into the fourth quarter that led to Escobar hooking up with Ray Watkins for a one-yard touchdown pass and the go-ahead score.

“We got the win against our rival school and set the foundation moving forward,” Escobar said. “That win is the most important thing. I couldn’t have done it today without the rest of my teammates, and that offensive line worked hard all year.”

Escobar finished 16-of-28 for 146 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Wide receiver Cordell Pimienta had five catches for 63 yards and senior running back Jarvis Mustipher led the rushing attack with 20 carries for 96 yards.

“This victory is hopefully just a stepping stone for our program,” Mustipher said. “I think they can win more games next year. It feels good to always get a victory, but I’m proud of myself and the team for sending the seniors out with a victory. It’s an incredible feeling.”

McCann was 6-of-11 through the air for 51 yards and running back Zack Graves had 19 carries for 101 rushing yards for Mary.

“It’s always sad to say goodbye to your seniors,” Mary coach Josh Kotelnicki said. “It’s a good group of kids. We just don’t have a lot of numbers in our senior class or junior class. So, much like Minot, we’ve had to play a lot of young kids. It was a competitive game and a fun game, but it’s sad to see our kids go. I think we had pretty good attitudes the whole year which says something about their character.”

MSU finishes the year 3-8 and 2-5 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division. The Beavers’ three wins are tied for the most in program history in the Division II era.

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