Wayne State held Southwest Minnesota State to 142 yards of total offense to overcome five turnovers on offense as the Wildcats registered a 23-14 Northern Sun Conference road victory Saturday evening over the Mustangs at Schwan Regional Event Center in Marshall, Minnesota. It was the third straight win for WSC over SMSU in Marshall, improving the Wildcats to 1-1 overall and 1-1 in the NSIC South while SMSU drops to 0-2 and 0-2 in divisional play.
The Wildcats got off to a slow start, turning the ball over on three of its first four drives (two fumbles/sacks and one interception) as the Mustangs took advantage of the short field early to take the lead.
WSC quarterback Aaron Bleil was sacked and fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, giving SMSU the ball at the WSC 5. Trey Sachs scored on a two-yard run for the Mustangs giving SMSU a 7-0 lead at the 13:13 mark of the first quarter.
The Wildcats also turned the ball over on their second and fourth series of the first quarter, but the Mustangs could not capitalize keeping the score 7-0.
Later in the first quarter, Bleil fired a 19-yard scoring strike to redshirt freshman tight end Cole Wemhoff with just six seconds left to knot the score at 7-7.
The lone score of the second quarter came on a 38-yard pass play from Bleil to sophomore tight end Conner Paxton, giving the Wildcats a 13-7 lead at intermission after the PAT kick hit the left upright.
Southwest Minnesota State took the opening drive of the second half and marched 78 yards on just seven plays, using a 12-yard pass from quarterback Blake Gimbel to Max Simmons giving the Mustangs a 14-13 lead at the 12:02 mark of the third quarter.
Wayne State took the lead for good late in the third quarter when Nate Rogers made a great leaping catch in the end zone on a 20-yard pass from Bleil, putting the ‘Cats ahead 20-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Despite a late third quarter fumble and another fumble in the fourth, WSC was able to overcome the miscues on offense thanks to a defense that limited SMSU to just 142 yards of total offense that included eight sacks for 50 yards.
After holding SMSU on downs late in the game and getting the ball at the Mustang 16, WSC added an insurance score with 21 seconds to play on a Ethan Knudson 27-yard field goal to make the final score 23-14.
Wayne State held a sizeable edge in total offense over SMSU 417-142. The ‘Cats had 126 yards rushing and 291 passing while holding the Mustangs to just five yards rushing and 137 through the air.
Sophomore running back Marlon Warren carried the ball 34 times for 147 yards to lead the Wildcat ground attack.
Quarterback Aaron Bleil completed 25 of 39 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Senior Nate Rogers had seven catches for 93 yards and one TD after making just one catch for nine yards in the first half. Sophomore tight end Conner Paxton accounted for six receptions and 97 yards with one score while Jamal Albousafi had four catches for 38 yards. Redshirt freshman tight end Cole Wemhoff added three grabs for 36 yards and one score.
Junior defensive end Jacob Protzman had eight total tackles including five sacks for 34 yards to lead the Wildcat defense. Junior linebacker Tyler Thomsen had a team-high 10 tackles while MJ Blankenfeld recorded five stops with two tackles for loss totaling 12 yards.
Wayne State’s defense forced 12 SMSU punts and held the Mustangs to just 3 of 18 conversions on third down to go with the eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss for 71 yards.
The Wildcats return home next weekend, hosting South Division rival Augustana in an NSIC contest starting at 6 p.m. at Bob Cunningham Field in Wayne.