It came down to the wire and much to the excitement of the 5,352 in attendance, the Wildcat football team survived the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks final drive to pull out a 31-24 victory.
Mankato used a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the score, 24-24, with 11:41 left in the game. This set the stage for freshman wide receiver Julian Gaines. The 6’6” receiver used his height to make the game- winning touchdown over the smaller Maverick defensive backs. On fourth and one from the 27-yard line, offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky called Gaines’ number.
“Carter made a great pass,” Gaines said,” “Trust –– that’s what it’s based off of. You’ve got to trust each other to make plays.”
Head coach Bernie Anderson had seen Gaines make those plays in practice a few different times and thought Ostrowsky made the right call.
“He 6’6” and he can go vertical. He made some plays like that in practice so we knew he was capable of it,” Anderson said. “Until you get him in a game and see him make a big play like that you just never know and I thought it was a great call by Ostrowski.”
The touchdown came with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter and still left the Mavericks with one more shot. They drove the ball down the field with a nine-play, 55-yard effort.
It came up short as senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock tipped the pass which was batted around before being intercepted by senior defensive back Jacob Lehmann. Anderson said the big plays were the difference for the ’Cats in the game.
“Well, we didn’t get a turnover the entire game,” Anderson said. “They moved the ball for four quarters, and we’d come up with the one big play when we had to have it, and it was the difference in the game tonight.”
Kopach led the Wildcats offensive attack, throwing 13-of-19 for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He also scrambled his way to 88 yards on the ground to lead the game in rushing.
“Carter Kopach’s a competitor,” Anderson said You can see the competitor, the leader; he makes big plays and that’s why you win big games.”
Northern started the game by kicking off to Mankato; the defense came out fired up and caused a three-and-out, forcing the Mavericks to punt.
Junior defensive tackle Zach Anderson said the defensive stand was the start the ’Cats were looking for after waiting a year to revenge the 7-6 loss against Mankato last season.
“That was huge for us,” Anderson said. “That’s what we wanted to do, come out and show them that we prepared all summer and we we’re waiting for them. We wanted revenge; we wanted payback and that three and out really got our momentum going.”
The momentum paid off on the following play, as NMU senior John Privitelli split the defense and returned the Mankato punt 67 yards to put the ’Cats on the board.
The Mavericks responded with 9:05 left on a 28-yard field goal.
The Wildcats marched down the field and responded with a 22-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Carter Kopach to sophomore wide receiver Christian Jessie.
Mankato scored again off a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jon Daniels. The ’Cats returned with a drive of their own that resulted in a four yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Christian Marble-King. The Mavericks scored again right before halftime and NMU went into the locker room leading 21-17.
The Wildcats stepped up the defensive pressure in the third quarter once again and held the Mavericks scoreless, while adding three points of their own with a 43-yard field goal off the foot of junior kicker Rockne Belmonte. Anderson was impressed with the way the defensive front played.
“I thought our defensive front did a nice job,” Anderson said. “We know they’re good up front and they proved that, they did get pressure and they came up with some big plays and without it, we could have a different story. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our players played.”
The Wildcats are on the road for the first time this year next weekend, as they travel to Ohio to take on the Findlay Oilers at noon on Saturday, Sept. 10. The Oilers are currently 0-1, while NMU is 1-0.