“Not good enough.”
That was a popular phrase in the postgame press conference for coach Paul Rudolph, whose Minot State University football team suffered its second consecutive one-point home defeat on Saturday.
Minnesota State University-Moorhead sophomore Steve Schutz blocked an extra point with 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining to preserve a lead, and the Dragons ran out the clock on a 31-30 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference victory at Herb Parker Stadium.
“He’s kind of a locker-room leader. He’s an inspiration for our guys,” Moorhead coach Steve Laqua said of Schutz. “He did time in the military and came back to play college football. He’s battled and every play is important to him. A seemingly insignificant extra-point block is huge, so just a credit to him for having the tenacity to stay after it.”
The loss continued a hard-luck season for the Beavers (2-7 overall, 1-4 NSIC North), who gave up a last-minute, two-point conversion to Northern State in a 22-21 defeat in their previous home game.
“I don’t think there’s any nice way to lose,” MSU junior wide receiver Leon LaDeaux said. “Getting blown out 52-0 at Duluth or losing by one point, a loss is a loss whatever way you look at it. It’s just disappointing when you’re not on the correct side of things.”
Schutz’s decisive block may not have been possible had the Beavers converted on two fourth downs in the second half. MSU sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha misfired on a corner route on fourth-and-1 from the Moorhead 2-yard line in the third quarter. On a fourth-and-2 from the Dragons’ 5 with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth, Cunha kept the ball on an option but was stopped just inches from a first down.
“‘Bend but don’t break’ was our defensive philosophy and our kids executed the game plan,” Laqua said. “It makes you a little nervous when it gets down so close, but credit us for making some plays. We made them when we needed to make them.”
LaDeaux said those failed conversions are on the players’ shoulders.
“When a coach lets you go for it on fourth down, you take that as he respects the offense and he believes in you guys,” he said. “We have to take that as players and make those plays so that belief continues.”
Following Moorhead’s second fourth-down stop, the Beavers forced a three-and-out to give their offense another chance.
LaDeaux and senior wideout Wayne Peters made receptions to set up freshman Jarvis Mustipher’s 7-yard touchdown run, which set the stage for Schutz’s block.
Moorhead (3-6, 3-2) trailed 24-14 entering the fourth quarter but rattled of 17 unanswered points to take the lead. Wes Kramer hit a 20-yard field goal with 13:43 remaining to bring the Dragons within one score.
After forcing a three-and-out, Moorhead tied it with a 9-play, 83-yard drive capped by Adam Jiskra’s 10-yard touchdown reception.
On MSU’s next drive, Cunha tossed his lone interception of the day on a back-foot throw into double coverage. Moorhead safety Garrett Shelley picked off the hovering ball and freshman wideout Dan Grande caught a 30-yard TD two plays later to give the Dragons a 31-24 lead with 9:33 remaining.
MSU held the high-powered Moorhead offense in check for most of the game, but Laqua said his offense grew stronger as the game progressed. The Dragons ran 88 offensive plays compared to 72 for the Beavers.
“There were a couple of adjustments we made with some open routes,” Laqua said. “We ran a bunch of plays in the first half and we felt like if we could get ’em to a fourth quarter in a close game, we could crack ’em and wear ’em down with as many plays as we played.”
Cunha finished 28 of 44 for 355 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Peters led all receivers with 169 yards on eight receptions. Mustipher carried 18 times for 90 yards against a Moorhead defense that stacked the line of scrimmage.
“Whenever we got decent yards in the run game it was because we slivered through a missed tackle down there,” Rudolph said. “It was 9 vs. 7 pretty much the entire day in the run game. You gotta be able to throw it.”
Moorhead sophomore Jake Hodge completed 25 of 49 passes for 356 yards and four TDs. Wideout Cory Ambrose tallied with 151 yards on eight catches, including a 92-yard score late in the second quarter.
LaDeaux took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, and MSU kicker Brian Gutierrez tacked on a 36-yard field goal 26 seconds before halftime to give the Beavers a 17-14 lead at intermission.
MSU junior defensive end Cameron Stone finished with a sack and three tackles for loss, but dislocated his elbow during the game. His status for Saturday’s matchup at St. Cloud State is unknown.
Junior safety Levi Freidt and senior nose guard Logan Jones recorded interceptions for MSU, with the 295-pound Jones rumbling 53 yards to set up Gutierrez’s second-quarter field goal.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.