Up 24-10 in the fourth quarter of Saturday's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football game against Minnesota State-Mankato, the 10th-ranked team in the nation, the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs were so close to an upset that they could nearly taste it.
Instead, they were left with a sour taste in their mouths as the Mavericks used two quick scoring drives in the final 7 minutes, 36 seconds to tie the game in regulation, eventually outlasting the Mustangs for a 34-31 double-overtime victory at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato.
"We had played so well for 53 minutes and then they were able to score fairly quick on those two drives and put it into overtime," SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. "We hung with them in that first overtime, but they obviously beat us in the end. It's a sick feeling having it right there in front of you and then have it pulled away."
Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime, and in the second overtime the Mustangs failed to convert on a fourth-and-two play at the MSU 17-yard line. The Mavericks finished the game off with a 20-yard field goal by Sam Brockshus that allowed the Mankato players, coaches and fans to exhale after the close call.
MSU remains unbeaten at 7-0 overall, while the Mustangs fall to 2-5.
The Mavericks entered the game leading the nation in total defense, holding opponents to just over 200 yards per game. The Mustangs entered the contest full of confidence after rushing for 324 yards in a 40-24 upset win over Wayne State. It was SMSU that had its way for much of the game, as the Mustangs piled up 383 yards of total offense, including 176 yards rushing, while holding the lead through much of the day.
SMSU got on the board first near the end of the opening quarter when senior quarterback Tyler Peschong connected with wide receiver Anthony Dean for a 75-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left in the quarter.
"Our first two drives were three-and-outs, and that's what we figured it could be like all game with their defense,"?Sauter said. "But we finally got something going on a third-and-long on our next drive when we dialed up a play for Anthony and he jumped up to make a catch and took it all the way. That definitely jump-started us, and then we were able to put some long drives together that helped us control the clock."
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter before MSU struck for an 11-play, 71-yard drive that took up just 1:32 off the clock. The final play of the drive was a 4-yard touchdown run by Andy Pfeiffer with just 10 seconds remaining in the half.
The SMSU defense, which played strong for much of the game, stepped up to start the third quarter when AJ Page sacked MSU quarterback Jon Wolf on a fourth-and-10 play at the SMSU 32. The Mustangs took over on their own 37 and drove 63 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 3-yard pass from Peschong to Dean with 6:08 left in the third to go up 17-10.
The Mustangs added to their lead to start the fourth, scoring when running back Gannon Moore scampered 24 yards to cap a 12-play, 86-yard drive with 7:36 left in the game.
Needed a score desperately to keep their perfect record intact, the Mavericks went 66 yards on four plays in 1:16 to cut the lead in half. Three 15-yard passes set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Wolf with 6:20 remaining.
The Mustangs got two first downs on their next drive, but Peschong was sacked by MSU's Bryan Keys on a third-and-seven play at midfield and SMSU was forced to punt.
After a short punt by Lance Schuveiller, the Mavericks took over at their own 30-yard line with 1:59 remaining in regulation.
Again, the MSU offense was able to march right down the field when it needed to, going 70 yards in six plays. Wolf connected with receiver Adam Thielen four times for 62 yards during the drive, including an 8-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds left in regulation. Thielen had a huge day for the Mavericks, catching 11 passes for 167 yards.
MSU got the ball first in the first overtime and scored immediately on a 25-yard rush by Pfeiffer. It took SMSU eight plays and a couple of third-down conversions to get its score, but the Mustangs matched the Mavericks after Peschong hit tight end Cody Condon over the middle for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Mustangs had the ball first in the second overtime and faced a fourth-and-two at the MSU 17-yard line. Instead of opting for the field goal, SMSU tried to extend its drive, but a short pass from Peschong to Moore in the flats was incomplete.
MSU drove down to the SMSU 3-yard line before Brockshus hit the game-winner on fourth down.
"I didn't feel like three points was going to be enough," Sauter said. "With it only being about a yard, we felt pretty good going for it.
"The ball was thrown behind [Moore] a little bit and he couldn't hang on and it was just a tough way to end it."
Peschong finished the game 16 of 32 passing for 207 yards with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries.
Dean led the SMSU receiving corps with three catches for 103 yards and two scores. Moore had 68 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Warren Matthews had 81 yards on 18 rushes.
The Mavericks had 469 yards of total offense in the game. Wolf was 16-for-25 passing for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was also sacked three times, twice by Page.
Joe Stupka and J.J. Bobrowicz each had 10 tackles to lead the SMSU defense, while Dashawn Miller had eight tackles and an interception.
SMSU will try to bounce back Saturday when the Mustangs host Upper Iowa (2-5 overall) at 5 p.m. at Mattke Field.
SMSU 7 3 7 7 7-31
MSU 0 10 0 14 10-34
SMSU-Anthony Dean 75 pass from Tyler Peschong (Lance Schuveiller kick), 0:43
MSU-Sam Brockshus 36 field goal, 9:37
SMSU-Schuveiller 27 field goal, 1:54
MSU-Andy Pfeiffer 4 run (Brockshus kick), 0:10
SMSU-Dean 3 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 6:08
SMSU-Gannon Moore 24 run (Schuveiller kick), 7:36
MSU-Jon Wolf 6 run (Brockshus kick), 6:20
MSU-Adam Thielen 8 pass from Wolf (Brockshus kick), 0:39
MSU-Pfeiffer 25 run (Brockshus kick)
SMSU-Cody Condon 7 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick)
MSU-Brockshus 20 field goal
First Downs: SMSU 21; MSU 26. Rushing Yards: SMSU 176; MSU 210. Passing Yards: SMSU 207; MSU 242. Total Offense: SMSU 383; MSU 469. Total Plays: SMSU 74; MSU 78. Turnovers: SMSU 0; MSU 1. Penalties (Number-Yards): SMSU 9-89; MSU 8-76. Third-Down Conversions: SMSU 9 of 17; MSU 5 of 12. Fourth-Down Conversions: SMSU 1 of 3; MSU 1 of 4. Sacks By (Number-Yards): SMSU 3-27; MSU 2-10.
Rushing: SMSU-Tyler Peschong 11-30, Warren Matthews 18-81, Gannon Moore 12-68; MSU-Kyle Riggott 1-11, Connor Thomas 8-36, Trent Cummings 7-44, Jon Wolf 21-45, Andy Pfeiffer 12-70, Taylor Brookings 1-4.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): SMSU-Peschong 16-32-207-0; MSU-Wolf 16-25-239-1, Cummings 2-2-20-0.
Receiving: SMSU-Anthony Dean 3-103, Abe Kos 1-8, Britt Wickett 1-14, Cody Condon 4-45, Matthews 2-9, Moore 4-21, Adam Olson 1-7; MSU-Riggott 3-44, Ra'Shon Harper 2-26, Adam Thielen 11-167, Jeff Burns 1-15, Matt Murphy 1-7.
Tackles: SMSU-Joe Stupka 10, J.J. Bobrowicz 10, Dashawn Miller 8, Tate Bunkers 6; MSU-Marcus Hall-Oliver 8, Earl Brooks 7, Kaleb Wendricks 7, Hale Jordan 6.
Sacks: SMSU-AJ Page 2, Jacob Levtzow; MSU-Bryan Keys 1.5, Jorsh Gordon 0.5.
INT: SMSU-Miller; MSU-None.