Dark days are over

After the Minot State football team’s spring game Friday night at Herb Parker Stadium, coach Tyler Hughes, donning a dark green MSU polo, offered a few words to his new team.

“We’re off to a good start,” he said.

“There’s plenty of things we’ve got to work on,” he later added.

Hughes was surrounded by winners, in white uniforms, and losers, in red. The MSU defense’s 44-28 victory aside, the Beavers have never felt more together.

They began the spring season with Todd Hoffner as head coach for seven practice sessions. Defensive coordinator Byron Thomas spent four days and one practice as interim head coach. Hughes took the helm April 19.

“Everybody says and knows that adversity makes a team stronger,” junior defensive lineman Mitchell Matthias said. “I don’t know how much more adversity a team can be put through in one spring than what we had.”

Hughes had a half dozen recruits on campus for the game. He advised his team to “make smart decisions tonight. Represent our program well.”

The spring season is over, as is the chaos that engulfed it.

Now, it’s just football.

“It’s nice to finally wrap everything up,” senior receiver Leon LaDeaux said. “It gives Coach Hughes now an opportunity to go in there – not in the middle of things – and put in the changes where he wants to. Put his real stamp on things.”

The Beavers went 2-9 last season under the

direction of former coach Paul Rudolph. They see hope in a program that trudged through more than its fair share of darkness

Said Matthias, who recovered a fumble in the final minute to help clinch the defense’s win: “In my opinion, it’s more than just light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel just opened up.”

MSU displayed inconsistency throughout the intrasquad scrimmage.

One series, a sharp offense strung together four straight first downs and ended the drive with a touchdown. The next, a three-and-out.

One series, a tough-as-nails defense stuffed runners at the line of scrimmage and closed a series with a sack. The next, penalties galore yielded yards.

“We had penalties and we had turnovers,” Hughes said. “There’s things like that we’ve got to get better at, no doubt. But I liked their energy level, the way they played as a team.”

The game was played under a modified scoring system. The offense received one point for a first down, three for a gain of 15-plus yards and seven for a touchdown. The defense scored one point for ending a drive, three for a sack and seven for a turnover and seven for a touchdown.

The defense scored 14 points when senior linebacker Casey Weinmann stripped junior quarterback Zac Cunha and recovered the fumble in the end zone. Weinmann’s crew led 23-11 at halftime.

Out of the intermission, the offense answered with a 16-point drive that included five first downs and ended on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cunha to LaDeaux.

“A drive like that that we scored on just shows the potential that we have there, that when everyone does their assignment, we can move the ball really quick,” LaDeaux said. “That’s something that we do need to build on and continue.”

With a minute to play, the defense trailed 28-27. On third-and-goal from the 7, senior defensive back Levi Freidt sacked Cunha, forcing a fumble, and Matthias recovered.

“We called a timeout as the play was ready to happen and we kind of just discussed it and said we need a big play here to kind of swing the score a little bit,” Matthias said. “Levi Freidt came up with a pretty nice sack, knocked the ball loose and it just kind of landed in my lap.”

On the next play, sophomore defensive back Lamar Kendricks iced the game with an interception.

That officially ended the treacherous spring football season. Now it’s Hughes’ team, 100 percent.

The Beavers can’t wait.

“Going into the summer, we expect a lot of guys to stay here this summer, be committed and really work hard through that so when we get into fall camp, we can really hit the ground running,” LaDeaux said.

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.