Fake it till you make it

Gutsy call on PAT lifts Beavers to Battle of the Big Lake victory

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State football players celebrate with the Battle of the Big Lake Trophy after beating the University of Mary 27-19 Saturday at the MDU Resources Community Bowl in Bismarck.

BISMARCK — Of all the ways Minot State football coach Mike Aldrich envisioned getting his first win, having the Beavers execute a go-ahead fake point-after attempt probably wasn’t at the top of his list.

Yet, that proved to be the difference in the Battle of the Big Lake Saturday at the MDU Resources Community Bowl in Bismarck. MSU (1-4) defeated the University of Mary for the third straight year, 27-19.

Before the fateful conversion, the Beavers’ previous two PAT attempts were anything but successful. The Marauders sent heavy pressure that overwhelmed MSU and blocked both kicks.

But trailing 19-18 fresh off a touchdown, Aldrich took advantage of U-Mary’s aggression and called for a fake. Holder Taylor Maloney set the ball down after the snap, then immediately picked up the ball, faked a flip over his shoulder to the kicker and ran to a wide-open hole on the left side for the go-ahead two-point conversion.

“We’d been practicing it,” Aldrich said. “If they gave us the right look, we knew it would work. We had the opportunity to run that play on a field goal earlier, but I wanted to save it for a situation if we were down by one and we could go up by one. Because that’s such a psychological advantage. It ended up working out and it was probably a swing that changed the game.”

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State linebacker Matt Marler (36) tackles U-Mary's Grady Blewett (41).

The Marauders (0-5) forced the Beavers to play catch up early, putting them in a 12-0 hole after first quarter touchdown runs from DeShawn Gay and Brennan Doan (both PATs were failed).

“I think it could have very well been easy to give up there,” Aldrich said. “The positive that came out of the (47-7) loss last week against Winona is some of that quit that we talked about creeped back into us. So, I think we learned from that and our guys had the confidence to just keep battling and not get worked up facing a triple-option team.”

MSU’s offense woke up in the second quarter, as quarterback Zac Cunha fooled the defense on a read-option and took a carry 29 yards for the Beavers’ first touchdown of the game. After the blocked PAT, the deficit was 12-6.

“I read my keys and saw the whole defense went with the running back,” Cunha said. “I just kept running. We’d been running the whole thing all season and that one just popped. I was surprised (how much room I had) at first, then I got excited. It was good to get back on the board because we needed a momentum shift at that time.”

With 41 seconds before halftime, the Beavers tied the game on a stretch play. On a heavy-package, running back Larry Overstreet made two defenders miss and scampered 19 yards for a score on 3rd-and-one.

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State quarterback Zac Cunha (16) runs for a touchdown.

“The O-Line did a great job opening holes and creating space for me,” Overstreet said. “I just did the rest. The coaches drew it all up for us and we executed from there. We had confidence in the running game and we executed all game.”

A fourth failed PAT of the half left the score tied heading into halftime.

On its first possession of the second half, U-Mary took back the lead on a 24-yard read-option touchdown run from quarterback Garrett Wissinger. The Marauders converted the first PAT of the game and moved in front 19-12.

Early in the fourth quarter, U-Mary was backed up to its own 4-yard line and struggled to take care of the football. MSU safety Bryce Broome recovered a fumble by U-Mary’s Colton Farmer to give the Beavers prime field position.

Overstreet punched in MSU’s third touchdown of the game on the first play of the drive, scampering in from four yards out. It was the first Beavers’ touchdown of the second half this season.

MSU originally sent kicker JoseLuis Moreno out to attempt to tie the game, but Maloney and Aldrich had other plans.

“We looked at it through film and saw there was a bit of a gap that allowed for a fake there,” Maloney said. “The first few PATs they got through a couple times, but they left the left side open so it looked like we could give it a try. We went out there and it worked to perfection. Shoutout to the guys up front, they were able to let me squeeze through.”

With 2:38 left, the Marauders threw up a desperation heave on fourth down, but quarterback Logan Nelson’s pass was intercepted by Broome to give MSU the ball with 2 minutes remaining.

UMary had already used all of its timeouts, so the Marauders elected to let Overstreet score from 76 yards out instead of allowing the Beavers to run out the clock. The Beavers converted the PAT to take a eight-point lead, but in hindsight, Overstreet knew he probably should have taken a knee after getting the first down.

“I actually was surprised (they let me score) because the play wasn’t drawn up for us to actually take the knee,” Overstreet said. “We didn’t know they were going to back up, and I just saw the hole and took off. Our defense made a stop and it ended up working for the best.”

Overstreet finished with a career-high 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, while also catching two passes for 28 yards. The MSU defense picked up Overstreet on the next drive, as linebacker Nikko Walker picked off another Nelson pass to seal the win.

Safety Donnell Vercher led MSU with 11 tackles, while Broome and Walker had 10 each. Making his first collegiate start at linebacker, Minot native Matt Marler contributed eight tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.

Cunha finished 7 of 15 passing for 65 yards and ran for 46 yards. Freshman running back Hayden Van Winkle picked up 41 yards on 10 carries.

Garrett Weissinger led UMary with 77 rushing yards and a touchdown, but the Marauders were held to only 30 passing yards. U-Mary slightly outgained the Beavers 347-325.

“I think close games like this is what actually make this a rivalry,” U-Mary defensive coordinator Jason Thier said. “You can’t just say a team is your rival unless the game comes down to the final possession when you play each other. Rivalry games allow for crazy situations to happen like you saw today.”

MSU has a short week, as it’s back in action against Northern State at 7 p.m. Thursday at Herb Parker Stadium.

“I’ll be interested to see how our guys handle it,” Aldrich said. “It really puts a lot of pressure on us as coaches. But coming off of a win, we’ll have some extra energy.”

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