‘Let the fireworks begin’

In a triple-overtime game dominated by defense, it took a flukish offensive play to finally end it.

With the score tied, Minot State University sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha lofted an underthrown pass to Wayne Peters on a fade route. Peters got tangled up with Augustana College cornerback Justin Brown as the defender made a play on the ball. Brown tipped the pass but didn’t completely stop the ball’s forward momentum.

Peters fell flat on his back, in perfect position to envelope the batted ball. As the referee raised his arms to signal touchdown a flood of MSU players rushed to Peters to celebrate the Beavers’ wild 23-17 win.

“Let the fireworks begin,” Peters said of his initial reaction to making the catch. “Seeing the team come in, it was just overwhelming.”

A postgame fireworks show perfectly captured the celebratory mood of the Beavers, who earned arguably their biggest win since joining the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in 2012.

The collective hero of the game was the MSU defensive unit, who routinely stuffed Augustana (1-1) in third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations. The last of these defensive stands came on Augustana’s triple-overtime possession, when the Beavers stopped two consecutive quarterback sneaks from the 1-yard line.

“Our D-line played well all game,” senior defensive tackle Logan Jones said. “We were a lot more physical, we were a lot stronger, a lot tougher and I just knew we were going to stuff them on all those plays.”

Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime, but both scored touchdowns in the second. MSU scored in just three plays in the second OT as Cunha found Peters on a 7-yard corner route.

The Vikings answered when redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Heid scrambled in from 9 yards out, knocking over the left pylon with the football as he was pushed out of bounds.

MSU’s goal-line stand in the third OT set the stage for what Peters described as “the best ending” to a game in his career.

MSU coach Paul Rudolph agreed with that sentiment.

“It’s an awful good feeling,” he said. “To win it against an extremely strong program that came out of the North Central Conference, it’s a great win for all of Minot State.”

MSU (1-1) was stingy in the first half, allowing only a 28-yard field goal by Lucas Wainman after MSU running back Jarvis Mustipher fumbled at his own 14-yard line.

“The defense was awful good,” Rudolph said. “They bent a couple times, but that was a heck of a warrior effort there.”

After two empty possessions in the first quarter, MSU scored its first points of the season on a 24-yard field goal by Brian Gutierrez three seconds into the second quarter. The Beavers drove 67 yards on the drive, aided by two possession-extending penalties by Augustana.

The Vikings twice entered Beaver territory in the second quarter, but each time the MSU defense held. Junior defensive end Cameron Stone tackled the fleet-footed Heid for a short third-down gain on one drive, and MSU freshman Dalton Houghton recorded a third-down sack of Heid on the Vikings’ next series.

Following that play, MSU took over on its own 20-yard line with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining.

The Beavers reeled off a seven-play, 80-yard drive in just 1:07 to take a 10-3 lead. Cunha completed 4 of 5 passes on the possession, including an 11-yard touchdown toss to sophomore wideout Porter Sturm in the front corner of the end zone.

Cunha finished 16 of 27 for 202 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Peters led the receiving corps with 93 yards on eight catches, and Mustipher rushed 13 times for 61 yards.

Although the defense was the stronger unit for the game, the MSU offense improved greatly from last week’s 29-0 loss at Concordia-St. Paul.

“We got a little running game going,” Rudolph said. “That was a big part of it. We got a little mix and match going and we don’t have to be completely moving that ball through the air.”

About 30 minutes after the game, Jones was still struggling to put into words the reaction on the MSU sideline following Peters’ game-ending reception.

“I think everybody pretty much just lost it,” he said.

MSU travels to Southwest Minnesota State on Friday.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.