MARSHALL — There was no panic in the halftime locker room for St. Cloud State Saturday night.
The Huskies were tied at 21 with Southwest Minnesota State, but the team knew something had to change. That’s where seniors can come in handy.
SCSU senior quarterback Phillip Klaphake hit senior wide receiver Eli Shoemaker for a 67-yard touchdown pass in stride on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter to put the Huskies up for good at 28-21.
That play sparked the Huskies to a 49-35 win over the Mustangs in the NSIC opener for both teams in front of 3,211 fans at Mattke Field.
“We know that play works against every coverage in the world,” Klaphake said. “They didn’t bring a corner blitz like they did in the first half when we tried to do that. It was a good way to go back to it. It felt really good to get a huge play like that after being tied. We had lost some of our momentum in the second quarter. It showed some guts.”
Shoemaker got the coverage look he was expecting on the TD.
“The cornerback’s feet were a little bit in concrete,” Shoemaker said. “Phil threw an amazing ball. I got it over the top and I thought it was an amazing throw when I was watching it. I was like ‘this is going to be perfect and in stride.’ I got the safety to slip off me and it was an easy touchdown.
“We want to see who was better on that play. What’s better than that?”
Shoemaker finished with five catches for 136 yards, but fellow senior wide receiver Damon Treat had an even bigger game. Treat had seven catches for 129 yards, including an 8-yard TD catch to put the Huskies up 14-0 with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
Treat didn’t score a touchdown at all last year, so he was happy to get back in the end zone.
“I worked an outside release and got into the corner,” Treat said. “Phil made a great read and I made it happen. It felt great to be back on the field fully healthy. I didn’t get a touchdown all of last year. That first one felt great. I felt like I had something to prove out here tonight.”
The St. Cloud State defense had a tough time slowing down the Mustangs’ offense. SMSU piled up 477 yards of total offense while quarterback Charlie Kern threw for 307 yards and two TDs. Southwest couldn’t stop the Huskies, either. SCSU had 521 yards of total offense.
It was 93 degrees in Marshall before kickoff. The heat definitely played a part in both teams’ defensive play later in the game.
“We were vastly tired,” St. Cloud State head coach Scott Underwood said. “We need to be more mentally and physically tough then we were tonight. It affected both teams. They had extended drives and we couldn’t get any three-and-outs. They had a lot of 12- and 14-play drives. A lot of our guys started cramping and we had to rotate a lot.”
Southwest tied it at 21 on a 13-yard TD run by running back Tyler Tonderum with 1:12 left in the first half. The Mustangs took advantage of a poor punt from SCSU junior Eric Mielke that he bobbled and almost missed off the end of his foot. SMSU took over on the SCSU 31-yard line after the punt.
The Huskies’ defense lost senior cornerback Marvin Matthews with 8:07 left in the third when he hit Tonderum high on an incomplete pass that he dropped. Matthews was ejected from the game due to the new NCAA rules for trying to tackle a defenseless player up high.
The play resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty and led to a 3-yard TD run by Tonderum to make 34-28.
“We had talked to our kids about the new rule,” Underwood said. “We showed them the video and what you can and can’t do. You can’t launch your body above the shoulders. It’s going to be called. If you’re even close, it’s going to be called.”
St. Cloud State responded on the very next drive with a 2-yard TD run by Kenneth Walker to go back up 42-28.
Under the new rule, Matthews has to sit out the first half of next Saturday’s game against Winona State. Underwood and Matthews said the team will petition the NSIC to review the play so Matthews doesn’t have to sit out.
“I read the play and I broke on it,” Matthews said. “If he would have caught it, they wouldn’t have called it. Hopefully they review it and I’m not kicked out for the first half next week. It’s football. What else was I supposed to do there? I didn’t notice he dropped the ball until I ran into him. I hit him with my hands.”
–St. Cloud State senior running back Michael Walker didn’t play in the game due to lingering problems with a pelvic injury. He said he hopes to play against Winona State. Ledell White started in his place and rushed for 107 yards and two TDs.
–St. Cloud State senior wide receiver Chad Peterson left the game in the first half after injuring his left knee and didn’t return. Peterson said the injury wasn’t serious.