Northern State scored three defensive touchdowns and also blocked a punt for a touchdown to help earn a 51-35 victory over Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday night in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football at Swisher Field.
SMSU (1-1 NSIC) ran a total of 92 plays to NSU’s 68 and outgained the Wolves, 473-311, but the turnovers proved to be too much to overcome as NSU improved to 1-1 on the season.
SMSU’s Blake Gimbel completed 34 of 49 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Huot caught a career-high 12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Huot has now caught 21 career touchdowns moving into eighth on the school all-time list.
Divonte Beale rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries to pace the SMSU rushing game, while Ashanti Payne added 67 yards on 20 carries and a career-high two touchdowns.
Nathan True led the Wolves with 83 yards rushing and one touchdown on 26 attempts. NSU quarterback Christian McAlvain passed for 175 yards and one touchdown completing 16 of 23 attempts.
Gene Germain racked up a team-high 11 tackles with Caleb Leichtnam adding eight stops.
Following punts by both teams to begin the game, NSU scored the first points of the night on a 1-yard touchdown pass from McAlvain to Conner Doherty with five minutes and eight seconds remaining in the first quarter.
SMSU countered with an impressive 73-yard, 14-play drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Payne with 31 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
NSU converted a pair of third-down conversions on its next drive—including third-and-four from the 7-yard line—as McAlvain sprinted free for a touchdown to give the Wolves the lead early in the second quarter.
SMSU was forced to punt on its next possession and disaster struck, as NSU’s Lincoln Gruber broke free to block the punt and teammate Cody Braeger scooped up the ball and returned it to the end zone to extend the lead to 21-7.
The Mustang offense answered with 16-play drive that covered 75 yards and was closed out by a 1-yard touchdown run by Payne on fourth-and-goal to cut the deficit to 21-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, NSU’s Channing Barber returned the ball to the SMSU 10-yard line, setting up first and goal. The Mustang defense came through in a big way and forced the Wolves to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Nate Shaw with 2:08 remaining in the half making the score 24-14.
Following an SMSU punt, NSU took over with 31 seconds left in the half and attempted to add to the lead. With the ball at the SMSU 39-yard line and less than 20 seconds on the clock, the Mustangs’ Tyler Flud broke free and stripped sacked McAlvain near midfield. SMSU’s Chance Steward picked up the loose ball and rumbled to the end zone, just crossing the goal line as time expired to cut the lead to 24-21 at halftime.
The momentum didn’t last long into the second half, as Gabe Galamue caught a pass near midfield on SMSU’s third play, but was stripped by NSU’s Conner Sheehan, who returned it for a 50-yard touchdown to give the Wolves a 10-point advantage once again.
SMSU once again wouldn’t go away and trimmed the lead to 31-28 on its next drive with a couple of big passes by Gimbel. Facing third-and-20, Gimbel tossed a 41-yard pass to Raphael Lawson-Gayle and one play later connected on a 35-yard pass to Galamue moving the ball to the NSU 4-yard line. Two plays later Gimbel found a wide open Huot for a 4-yard strike to make the score 31-28 with 6:24 remaining in the third.
The SMSU defense would stop NSU on downs following a failed fake punt, but SMSU couldn’t take advantage of the great field possession as Gimbel was intercepted at the NSU 10-yard line.
Following another NSU punt, SMSU took over at its own 28-yard line and moved the ball to the NSU 33-yard line. But on fourth-and-three, Gimbel was intercepted at the 30-yard line by Connor Barber who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown and push the NSU lead to 38-28 at the 13:54 mark of the fourth quarter.
SMSU was stopped on a fake punt at its own 37-yard and NSU took advantage of the short field to add to the lead. NSU converted a pair of fourth-down conversions and later scored on a 2-yard run by Truen to make the score 45-28 midway through the fourth.
The Mustangs cut the lead to 45-35 on their next drive as Gimbel found Huot open for a 14-yard touchdown reception with 4:22 left in the game.
NSU closed the game’s scoring on the final play as SMSU attempted several laterals following a completion and the Wolves recovered the loose ball on the play and scored one final touchdown.
Southwest Minnesota State returns home next Saturday, Sept. 17, taking on the University of Mary (0-2) with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. at the Schwan Regional Event Center.