SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A back and forth affair came down to the final minutes, but MSU Moorhead was unable to complete a comeback against Augustana on Saturday afternoon. The Dragons fell 31-27 to the Vikings.
Augustana would make an initial statement as the Vikings would gain solid field position thanks to a 45-yard kick return. On their first offensive play from scrimmage, Augustana scored on a 53-yard run from running back Jarod Epperson. Less than 20 seconds into the contest, the Vikings led 7-0. The Dragons opted for a more methodical approach on their initial drive with Jack Strandgaining 27 yards on a dash on MSUM's first play.
That would kickstart a 14-play, 94-yard drive which resulted in a Dragon score from Carter Birrenkott. The sophomore reeled in a perfect back shoulder throw from Strand and was able to get a knee down in the corner of the end zone. MSUM would fail on a two-point conversion as Augustana held a 7-6 lead. Strand completed 11 passes on 13 attempts in the opening drive.
Birrenkott would snag a huge 25-yard gain on the next Dragon drive, pulling in the ball with one hand on a throw that was slightly behind Birrenkott. That play would highlight a 15-play drive that spanned 77 yards and nearly six minutes. MSUM would opt to go for it on fourth down from the Augustana 12-yard line. The Viking defense would hold firm on the play, flipping possession with Augustana still leading 7-6. That score would remain through 15 minutes of play.
Augustana would utilize the turnover of downs to piece together a 11-play drive that went 90 yards and resulted in a touchdown. Early in the second frame, the Vikings led 14-6. MSUM would turn the ball over on downs again on the ensuing drive from the Augustana 41-yard line. Despite the favorable field position, the Vikings were unable to move the ball on the Dragon defense. Justice Noel made a pair of huge tackles, including a sack of Augustana quarterback Casey Bauman on third down.
On the final drive of the half, Augustana would chew up over five minutes of game clock, working the ball down to the Dragon one-yard line with 10 seconds remaining in the half. Epperson would rush for his second touchdown of the day with seconds waning, giving Augustana a 21-6 lead entering halftime.
MSUM would open the second half with a sense of urgency after receiving the kickoff. The Dragons would drive 75 yards in just over five minutes, utilizing 13 plays in the process. Jack Strand would cap off the stretch with a 10-yard scamper to the end zone to make the score 21-12. Gage Florence would take a screen pass and battle past the goal line for a two-point conversion to make the contest a one possession affair.
The Dragon momentum would be short-lived as Augustana would return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The 86-yard return would give the Vikings a two-touchdown lead, 28-14. MSUM would be unable to answer the massive special teams play, as the Dragons would go three and out on their next drive.
A huge momentum shift occurred late in the third quarter as Augustana was inching closer to the Dragon end zone. A first down run turned into a forced fumble from Adam Kallenbach which was recovered by Jack Bungarden. The fumble return brought MSUM to their own 37-yard line. The Dragon offense would take advantage of the turnover, driving 63 yards over nine plays. Madden Thorsonwould snag a nine-yard touchdown pass to cap the series. With the third quarter nearing an end, MSUM trailed 28-21.
The Vikings would tack on a field goal early in the fourth quarter to bring their lead to 31-21. MSUM would be unable to put points on the scoreboard as the clock dwindled to under nine minutes remaining. While MSUM would force a punt on the ensuing drive, Augustana would pick off Jack Strandon third down with just over five minutes remaining.
With Augustana driving, trying to seal the game, Jake Bettcher came up with a massive play, intercepting the Vikings in the end zone. The turnover gave MSUM one more shot at a comeback with just over three minutes remaining.
MSUM would use the turnover, driving 11 plays for 80 yards and a touchdown. Gage Florence caught a 20-yard strike from Strand to pull the Dragons to within three points with over a minute remaining. On the touchdown, Jack Strand tied his own MSUM and NSIC record for completions in a game (45). The Dragons failed on a two-point conversion as Augustana led 31-27.
Augustana would recover the MSUM onside kick recovery following the Dragon score. The Dragon defense would get Augustana into a third and two situation with the opportunity to gain possession for one final drive. However, the Vikings were able to push ahead past the sticks for the game-clinching first down.
Jack Strand: 45*-66, 366 passing yards, three touchdowns, nine rushes, 45 yards, one rushing touchdown
Gage Florence: 10 receptions, 83 yards, one touchdown
Carter Birrenkott: Six receptions, 73 yards, one touchdown
Madden Thorson: Seven receptions, 51 yards, one touchdown
Jake Bettcher: Five tackles, one interception
Adam Kallenbach: Nine tackles, one tackle for loss, forced fumble
Jack Bungarden: Nine tackles, one tackle for loss, fumble recovery
Justice Noel: Six tackles, one sack
*Ties the MSUM and NSIC record.
The Dragons (2-2, 1-2 NSIC) play inside the friendly confines of Nemzek Stadium next week for a matchup with Northern State. Kickoff is slated for noon on Saturday with game coverage avaialable on AM 1100 The Flag.
This article was written by MSUM's Nolan Schmidt