Warriors Stay Perfect, Tame Wildcats 42-19
After a tense first quarter, it turned into a happy Homecoming for the Winona State Warrior Football team, as they defeated Wayne State 42-19 at Maxwell Field at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.
The Warriors kept their perfect season intact, and also set up a showdown next week, with the only other undefeated team in the NSIC, Minnesota State Mankato.
The Warriors struck first in the Week 8 matchup with the Wildcats, but not on offense. Winona State won the opening coin toss, and elected to receive, but went 3-and-out, and were forced to punt.
Michael Russell pinned the Wildcats to their own 3 yard line. After a first play one yard gain, Nick Pridgeon put the Warriors on the board with a crushing safety of Wildcat quarterback Zach Osborn. The hit not only gave Winona State a 2-0 lead, and the ball, but it also knocked the Wildcat’s 2nd all-time passing leader out of the game.
The Wildcats would re-group after the free kick. With 10:21 to go in the first quarter, Glen Harris intercepted a Darren Beenken pass, to set the Wildcats up near midfield.
6 plays later, Wayne State relief quarterback Aaron Bleil connected with Nate Rogers for an 11-yard touchdown pass, giving the Wildcats a 7-2 lead. It would also be more points than the Warriors had given up in the first quarter in their past 7 games combined.
After a short kick, the Warrior offense snapped back to life. Zach Olstad capped the drive with his first touchdown of the season (and second career TD), on a one-yard run. That gave Winona State a 9-7 edge.
Aaron Bleil then slipped into a groove for Wayne State, completing passes to Layne Sullivan twice, including a 59-yard TD strike, to give the Wildcats a 13-9 lead, putting the Warriors behind after one quarter of play for the first time this season.
However, that would be about all the Wildcat offense had in them. The Warriors next drive lasted the rest of the quarter, and ended with Beenken finding Greg Rooney in the endzone for his first TD of the season, and the Warriors extended their lead to 16-13.
The Warriors would score twice more before halftime. Eric Birth had a 4-yard run with 12:34 to go in the half, and Carter McCauley connected on a 29-yard field goal, lifting the Warriors to a 26-13 lead.
On the Wildcat drive following the McCauley field goal, Wayne State changed quarterbacks once again, bringing Junior Taylor Reedy into the game. Bleil had been effective, going 3-of-4 for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In the third quarter, it appeared that Wayne State would gain some momentum. Aaron Wright intercepted Beenken. The Warriors had other plans, as 2 plays later, Adonis Brown intercepted Reedy and returned the pick 12 yards for a touchdown.
The Wildcats then started a drive on their own 11 yard line, and drove to the Warrior 21, but Defensive Lineman Alex Evans was in the right place at the right time, and extinguished the drive with his first interception of the season.
The ensuing Warrior drive ended with Eric Birth’s second TD of the game, an explosive 54 yard run. Birth ended the day with his 3rd 100-yard rushing game of the season. Birth gained 103 yards on 10 carries.
Carter McCauley added a 22 yard field goal – the 49th of his career, extending his Warrior record for career field goals.
The Wildcats would get one more score, a 6-yard TD catch for Rogers, his second of the game, to put the final score at 42-19.
Beenken was 7-of-17 for 192 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions. He was sacked twice in the game. Rooney and Birth were the only receivers with multiple catches (2 each), while Isaiah Frandsen led the team in yards, with 1 catch for 65 yards.
Jake Baillu had a big day returning punts, with 110 yards on 5 returns. He becomes only the second Warrior in school history to have 2 career games with 100+ return yards (Kevin Curtin). Baillu now has 628 yards in career punt returns, placing him 4th on the all-time Warrior list.
Winona State travels to Mankato next week to take on the undefeated Minnesota State Mavericks in a 1pm game.