The Minot State University football team is no longer winless in its first NCAA season.
For the first time this season, the Beavers made winning plays down the stretch - even reversing trends from earlier in the game.
A defense that gave up two touchdowns on fourth-and-longs made a crucial fourth-down stop, a receiving corps that dropped several passes made two diving catches on the go-ahead drive and MSU beat in-state rival University of Mary 32-21 on Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.
Minot State University junior receiver Glyn Borel scores a touchdown in front of a University of Mary defender during the first quarter of MSU’s win Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.
"It's awful good to get that one off our shoulders," said MSU coach Paul Rudolph, whose team won its first game as a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference member. "(The players) kept fighting, they kept working, they kept listening, and finally here we go. That's a good win for us. We needed one."
With three minutes, 50 seconds remaining and Mary leading 21-18, the Beavers (1-4) stuffed Mary running back Dariouse Gravely on a fourth-and-2 at the MSU 14-yard line.
MSU freshman quarterback Zac Cunha led the Beavers on a seven-play, 86-yard drive for the go-ahead score.
Mary's 14th penalty of the game, a personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit, helped the Beavers' field position. On second-and-10 from the 35, junior receiver Glyn Borel dove and hauled in a 20-yard pass over the middle. After a false-start penalty and an incompletion, Cunha found freshman wideout Porter Sturm on a fade route.
Sturm beat a Marauders cornerback and laid out for the 20-yard scoring grab. Freshman Aaron LaDeaux made the extra point to give MSU a 25-21 lead.
"I made eye contact with Zac and I could just kind of tell that he was gonna throw it up to me," Sturm said, "and I just went up and made the play."
Said Cunha: "Any defensive back that is dumb enough to press Porter Sturm is not gonna work out real well. They pressed him and he ran right by the guy and made an amazing catch."
The score set off a wild celebration on the MSU sideline, which included a leaping shoulder bump between Sturm and Rudolph, who showcased a little athleticism from his days as a Beaver quarterback in the 1980s.
"I'm pretty sure he got higher than me," Rudolph said, "but I was more excited."
Mary (3-2) got the ball with 1:52 remaining and a chance to drive, but MSU junior Jeff Buchert made his second interception to give the Beavers the ball back.
Three plays later, MSU freshman tailback Randel Barber scored on a 35-yard draw play to seal the win.
Buchert said he didn't see the Beavers' final two touchdowns, which were set up by big plays from the defense.
"I'm kind of superstitious," he said. "I don't watch the offense that much. I try to look at the ground and worry about the defense's job. ... When I hear the crowd react to them, it gives me goosebumps. It's so nice to have them finish out the drive and give them some confidence."
Rudolph credited the MSU defense for keeping the Beavers in striking distance. Mary freshman quarterback Zach Roberson completed 26-of-49 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. Normal starter Craig Bagnell was on the sideline in a wheelchair after suffering a back injury last week.
"I thought the defense played their hearts out," Rudolph said. "We put 'em in a couple tough spots, but for the most part, they did a heckuva job. They kept us in. We gave (Mary) some good field position and our defense was outstanding for the most part."
MSU jumped out to an early lead with a 33-yard touchdown reception by Borel and a 41-yard LaDeaux field goal, but Mary scored two unanswered touchdowns to lead 14-10 at half.
Cunha finished 16-of-33 for 228 yards and tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions. Borel led the Beavers with 90 yards receiving, and senior tailback Blake Eggl rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries.
The Beavers play at Northern State University at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Aberdeen, S.D.