Minnesota Duluth will find out today if its season continues.
Based on Saturday’s performance in Bismarck, it’d be a shame if it did not.
The Bulldogs, the NSIC North champs, rolled past the University of Mary in a frustrating finale for the Marauders. UMD is squarely on the NCAA Division II playoff bubble and will find out today if they earn an at-large bid.
UMD quarterback John Larson accounted for five touchdowns and the defense scored three times en route to a 62-27 victory.
“We hope this wasn’t our last game,” UMD head coach Curt Wiese said. “We didn’t get off to a great start this season, but the seniors on our team did a really good job holding things together … we feel really good about the way we’re playing right now."
Emotions were running high for the Marauders. Prior to the game, head coach Josh Kotelnicki told the team he would not be brought back next season. The Marauders scored 20 fourth-quarter points, but the hole was way too deep after UMD scored three touchdowns in its first 11 offensive snaps. The Marauders contributed greatly to their demise with six lost fumbles.
“At the end of the day, it’s always fun to go out there and play a football game regardless of what else might be swirling around,” U-Mary defensive back Brady Zittleman said. “Duluth is another great team, but we wanted to come out and compete hard for each other.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough season. We wanted to have more success, but I love the guys on this team. We’re blessed to be student-athletes, we’re blessed to be playing college football and we tried to represent our school and our program the best way we could.”
Wiese was disappointed to hear of Kotelnicki's fate.
"College coaching is a viscous profession. There are very few professions where you put your work on display in front of the public every week," Wiese said. "I respect the way Josh tried to go about building his football program. He did it the right way, trying to develop players.
"He's a great person, it's unfortunate for him it didn't work out, but he can leave with his head held high."
Duluth started fast on on a cool but sunny afternoon at the Bowl.
The Bulldogs ripped off a pair of four-play touchdown drives and the third lasted only three plays in building their 21-0 advantage just halfway through the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman quarterback John Larson was in the middle of it all. The Braham, Minn., native threw for 235 yards and two scores and added 21 yards rushing and a score.
“John has improved a lot throughout the course of the season,” Wiese said. “He’s a dual-threat guy that has really worked on his passing skills.”
After the Marauders’ second straight three-and-out, Larson found sure-fire All-American wide receiver Jason Baltz from the 13 yards out to make it 13-0.
A botched handoff, which have plagued the Marauders all season, was flopped on by the Bulldogs. Just three players later Larson sprinted up the gut and into the end zone from 21 yards out to make it 20-0 at the 7:43 mark of the opening quarter.
“We played three really good quarters, we got a little sloppy there at the end, but we needed to come in here and find a way to win the game, so we feel good about that,” Wiese said. “Now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
The Marauders had their moments offensively, no small feat against UMD. The Bulldogs had not allowed an offensive touchdown in their last four games and just six points total.
U-Mary struck via the big play in a spirited second-half effort. Paul Guptill provided a serious jolt.
The sophomore slot back from Quinn, S.D., covered 110 yards on two scoring plays.
In the second quarter, Garrett Weissinger found Guptill wide open in the middle of the field for a 56-yard touchdown connection. The same play was wide open on the first play of the game, but the throw was off the mark.
Guptill showed a burst of speed in the third quarter when he broke off a 54-yard touchdown run just 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Marauders also scored through the air and on defense.
In the fourth quarter, Sam Mackedanz pulled down a pass from Garrett Weissinger from one yard out. Less than two minutes later, Jarad Parker jarred the ball free from Ben Everhart scooped and scored from 39 yards out.
Zittleman, a senior from Mandan playing his final game, said the grind of the NSIC was worth the struggle.
"I'd rather go 1-10 in this conference than play a bunch of weak teams," Zittleman said. "We played some of the best teams in D-II, Harlan Hill finalists ... there's a lot of great memories from being a part of this program that I'll never forget."