MARSHALL - Take a hit. Bounce back. Take another hit, then bounce back again.
The Southwest Minnesota State football team's season finale, a 38-35 loss to Augustana, was very much a microcosm of its 2012 season overall, a season that saw the Mustangs suffer some heartbreaking losses, only to come back the next week and put forth a strong performance.
Saturday against the Vikings, the Mustangs battled back from a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter to take a one-point lead midway through the second quarter, then fell behind 10 points in the second half only to respond with back-to-back touchdowns to take a 35-31 lead early in the fourth quarter. But after an 11-yard touchdown run by Augustana's Dajon Newell with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game, the Mustangs fell short in their attempt to answer back one final time.
A 53-yard drive set up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Lance Schuveiller with eight seconds left to try to send the game to overtime. The kick had plenty of distance but sailed wide left, allowing the Vikings to escape Marshall with their 14th straight win over SMSU and finish one game ahead of the Mustangs in the final Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings with a 5-6 record.
The game was setting up to be a dream finish for SMSU and its 18 seniors, having battled back multiple times and then getting the ball with a chance at a game-winning drive. Senior quarterback Tyler Peschong threw an interception on SMSU's first offensive play of the game that led to Augustana's second touchdown, but had rallied to throw for 271 yards and four touchdowns to give the Mustangs a chance in the end.
The missed field goal was a difficult way for the team to end its year, but Peschong was quick to pick up Schuveiller, who had filled in for the injured Mike Wenk at the start of the season.
"There were a couple throws I'd like to have back, just like any other game, but we put ourselves in an opportunity to give ourselves a chance," Peschong said. "Lance has been phenomenal all year and I love the kid to death. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity, he's done it all year.
"Just like I'd like to have some throws back, I'm sure he'd like to have that kick back. Everyone has those plays they want back. But he'll have a great year next year, I know that."
With the way the game started, it seemed SMSU may not even have a shot in the end. Augustana, which entered the game with the NSIC's second-ranked offense, marched down the field 65 yards on 12 plays and scored on a 9-yard pass from Josh Hanson to Darren Niklason. Then they took advantage of Peschong's pick by driving 30 yards for a touchdown on their next possession to go up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
Augustana14 17 0 7-38
SMSU0 21 7 7-35
AC-Darren Niklason 9 pass from Josh Hanson (Hanson kick), 9:34
AC-Dajon Newell 6 run (Hanson kick), 7:31
SMSU-Warren Matthews 4 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 14:25
AC-Matt Gerry 29 pass from Hanson (Hanson kick blocked), 13:22
SMSU-Anthony Dean 8 pass from Tyler Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 9:15
SMSU-Matthews 16 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 5:37
AC-Newell 47 run (Hanson run), 3:45
AC-Hanson 18 field goal, 0:00
SMSU-Tyler Erickson 20 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 5:28
SMSU-Cody Condon 15 pass from Peschong (Schuveiller kick), 12:22
AC-Newell 11 run (Hanson kick), 3:12
First Downs: AC 26; SMSU 25. Rushing Yards: AC 241; SMSU 156. Passing Yards: AC 256; SMSU 271. Total Offense: AC 497; SMSU 427. Turnovers: AC 1; SMSU 1. Penalties (Number-Yards): AC 7-85; SMSU 7-57. Time of Possession: AC 29:08; SMSU 30:52. Third-Down Conversions: AC 6 of 10; SMSU 9 of 16. Fourth-Down Conversions: AC 0 of 1; SMSU 2 of 3.
Rushing: AC-Dajon Newell 21-165, CJ Ham 12-67, Tanner Foth 1-4, Josh Hanson 2-4; SMSU-Gannon Moore 15-72, Warren Matthews 14-68, Tyler Peschong 5-16.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): AC-Hanson 22-28-256-0; SMSU-Peschong 23-41-271-1.
Receiving: AC-Darren Niklason 12-116, Ben Parsley 5-66, Grant Gebhardt 2-23, Matt Gerry 1-29, Isaac Jorgensen 1-14, Ham 1-8; SMSU-Anthony Dean 7-55, Tyler Erickson 5-66, Abe Kos 3-57, Matthews 3-34, Moore 3-31, Cody Condon 2-28.
Tackles: AC-Austin Luecke 10, Sam Thorson 8, Nate Kirby 6, Thomas Vanasek 5; SMSU-Joe Stupka 9, Tate Bunkers 8, Dashawn Miller 8, Blake Pennock 6, AJ Page 6.
Sacks: AC-None; SMSU-None.
Interceptions: AC-Vanasek; SMSU-None.
SMSU's offense took off in the second quarter, getting a 4-yard touchdown run by senior running back Warren Matthews, an 8-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Dean and a 16-yard touchdown receptions by Matthews to go up 21-20 with 5:37 left in the opening half. Matthews' second touchdown came after an Augustana fumbled kickoff return that was forced and recovered by SMSU's Dan Timm and gave the Mustangs a short field.
Newell broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run on Augustana's next possession to put the Vikings back on top. An 18-yard field goal from Hanson as the halftime horn sounded gave Augustana a 31-21 lead.
SMSU's defense stepped up in the third, holding Augustana scoreless, and Peschong threw touchdown passes on back-to-back drives - a 20-yard pass to Tyler Erickson and a 15-yard pass to Cody Condon - to put SMSU up 35-31 with 12:22 left in the game.
Both teams had three-and-outs following the Condon touchdown, and Augustana then went on a 13-play, 92-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 12 seconds. The VIkings had had success running the ball through most of the game, and that drive was no different, as Augustana rushed the ball 10 times during the drive and scored on Newell's 11-yard rush.
Newell finished with 165 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns, and the Vikings tallied 241 yards rushing as a team. Hanson also had a strong game, completing 22 of 28 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said he was proud of his team for its effort to fight back in the game, and its ability to respond to adversity all season.
"It's a night and day difference between this group and any other team that we've had," he said. "They've competed against really everyone in our conference. I couldn't be more proud of them and I just hope our young guys can learn from this, respond from it and understand what it takes to play in this conference."
Saturday was the final game for Peschong, Matthews, all-time SMSU rushing touchdowns leader Gannon Moore and 15 other Mustangs. Many of them played two to three years, and wins were hard to come by. Peschong started 23 games for SMSU and the Mustangs won just seven of them. But the signal caller and team captain said he wouldn't trade his time in Marshall for anything.
"To be honest, since I can remember, I've always wanted to play college football and play quarterback," Peschong said. "Your last game is something you don't ever expect to come, and when it does, it's tough.
"But I'm just so blessed. Coach (Eric Eidsness) gave me an opportunity five years ago and Coach Sauter has let me take over as starting quarterback and compete with these guys. The Marshall community has been unbelievable and I'm just unbelievably blessed with the opportunity I've had these last five years and I wouldn't have it any other way."