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Top-ranked Mankato uses big first half to top Dragons

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MOORHEAD — Minnesota-State-Mankato gave Minnesota State Moorhead's football program a presentation Saturday on where the Dragons would like to be one day. The Dragons also saw how far away they are, losing 42-20 to Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe and the top-ranked Mavericks at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.

"To get to the level that they're at takes time and resources," MSUM coach Steve Laqua said. "We've increased our resources since we've been here from nine-and-a-half scholarships to 28 and the league chooses to go to 36, so those resources gotta continue to grow to give us a chance. It's time with resources.

"Another piece is you have to be dominant in the trenches, O-line and D-line. I think you could see there they had the edge in the trenches, so certainly that's an area we have to grow if we're going to reach an elite status in our conference."

Mankato (6-0, 4-0 NSIC South) was up 14-0 before MSUM had a first down. The Mavericks benefitted from short fields, starting at the MSUM 44 and 42-yard lines on their first two drives. Ryan Schlichte opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Justin Arnold and Nate Gunn had a 10-yard touchdown run on the their first two drives.

"I think we started out slow, we were a little bit shocked," said MSUM redshirt freshman running back Ty Jochim, who rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. "We came out and were a little bit better. It just wasn't enough."

MSUM (4-2, 3-1 NSIC North) had its opportunities to make it a game.

The Dragons got to the Mankato 35-yard line on the ensuing drive when Jake Schaper had a strip sack, knocking the ball loose from MSUM quarterback Jakup Sinani, and Mankato's Chance Bowen pounced on it. Schlichte found Shane Zylstra behind everyone for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the next play to make it 21-0.

Zach Simons fumbled into the hands of Jack Curtis, giving the ball to Mankato at the MSUM 10. Gunn rumbled in for a 7-yard touchdown run one play later to make it 28-0. The Dragons defense tightened and they put 14 unanswered points on the board thanks to a 27-yard touchdown run from Jochim and a 20-yard touchdown run from Simons

"They just came out, they fought really hard," Sinani said. "We were down early, took a lot to come back and we just couldn't do enough to get over the top."

Mavericks delivered the dagger right before halftime.

Mankato was eyeing third-and-11 from its own 37 with less than two minutes remaining in the half. Dragons had scored 14 unanswered and were looking for more before halftime. Schlichte would have none of that, hitting Zylstra on a 41-yard pass for a first down.

 

"He made some great plays today, and he was close to making some phenomenal plays today on some catches," Laqua said of Zylstra. "The kid's a good player and he made some good plays. We just tried to contain him as best we could, but that's difficult."

Gunn eventually pounded it in for a 1-yard touchdown with eight seconds remaining in the half to push the lead to 35-14 at the break. If the drive at the end of the first half wasn't painful enough, Trevor Nissen returned the opening kick of the second half 88 yards to put Mankato up 42-14.

"When you play a team like that you can't allow momentum to go against you, you can't turn the ball over, which we did, and we gave them short fields early," Laqua said. "We just didn't follow the recipe to knock off the top team."

MSM 21 14 7 0—42

MSUM 0 14 6 0—20

MSM-Arnold 14 pass from Schlichte (Bednarski kick)

MSM-Gunn 10 run (Bednarski kick)

MSM-Zylstra 59 pass from Schlichte (Bednarski kick)

MSM-Gunn 7 run (Bednarski kick)

MSUM-Jochim 27 run (Tjosvold kick)

MSUM-Simons 20 run (Tjosvold kick)

MSM-Gunn 1 run (Bednarski kick)

MSM-Nissen 88 kick return (Bednarski kick)

MSUM-Jochim 15 run (kick missed)

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