It’s a lot more fun being in the end zone than on the sideline, even though it cost Luke Little a full year of eligibility to get there.
The University of Mary freshman had his redshirt pulled this week after two receivers went down with injuries and responded with two touchdown catches in Saturday’s 30-6 win over Minnesota Crookston at the Community Bowl.
“It’s certainly a situation we want to avoid, pulling a kid’s shirt in the middle of the year,” said U-Mary coach Josh Kotelnicki, who is 4-0 all-time against the Golden Eagles (0-3 North Division, 0-7 overall). “His attitude was whatever is best for the team, which is what you pray their attitude is.”
Little caught a 6-yard fade pass from Garrett Weissinger in the third quarter, then used all of his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame to wrestle an 11-yard catch away from UMC defensive back Anfernee Cooper in the fourth quarter.
The Bismarck Century graduate now has more touchdown catches than any other U-Mary receiver. He admitted to being skeptical when first approached about going into action.
“I was a little skeptical at first after going halfway through the season. But it ended up working out pretty well,” Little said. “I can’t really be upset with the results … The team needed me, so I had to step up and do my part.”
Little’s was a big part, as big perhaps as the Marauders’ NCAA-era rushing record of 417 yards on 69 carries. The team’s previous high had been 364 yards. The school record is 445 yards set back when it was in the NAIA.
DeShawn Gay led U-Mary with 88 yards on nine carries. That included a 1-yard TD run that ignited a 27-point second half. Paul Guptill added 84 yards on 13 carries and Garrett Weissinger chipped in 65.
U-Mary (1-2, 1-6) had 203 yards rushing in the first half but led just 3-0 on Cody Goetz’s 26-yard field goal. The Marauders’ first drive was an 18-play march that went inside the UMC 1-yard line, but ended on downs after six plays – including a penalty on each team – from inside the 10.
“There’s a moment when you go gosh dang it I hope that doesn’t come back and bite us in the butt,” Kotelnicki said. "Every time we play these guys it comes down to the last possession. I didn’t want the kids to think the game was won or lost on one mistake.”
U-Mary came out fast in the third. It went 39 yards after a long kick return to go up 10-0 on Gay’s run. After a three-and-out, the Marauders took over on the 50 and scored on Little’s first TD.
“I’ve been waiting a couple of years to watch us catch some red-zone fades,” Kotelnicki said.
UMC followed with a 12-play, 70-yard march capped by quarterback Joseph Nava’s 10-yard run but the PAT was blocked. The Eagles also had a field goal blocked at the end of the first half.
The Marauders added to their lead nine seconds into the fourth quarter. Weissinger threw a pass high to the back corner of the end zone and Little hauled it in.
“I thought the corner actually had it but I ended up taking it out of his hands,” Little said.
Kotelnicki said he has seen that before from Little.
“He has made a number of catches like that in practice,” he said. “The defensive coaches have seen Luke make catches like that all year and said this is the kid who gives us the most problems.”
U-Mary tacked on one more score on Devin Hope’s 4-yard run. Hope ran for 56 yards on 11 attempts.
Nava, meanwhile was under pressure all game. He was sacked eight times, which contributed to the Eagles minus-35 yards on the ground. Brock Pittsley and Jackson Grad had two sacks apiece for the Marauders.
Nava completed 17 of 31 passes for 262 yards. Adam Connette had 116 yards on seven catches.
The win snapped a 10-game losing streak by the Marauders dating back to last year’s 26-13 win over UMC.
“It’s a huge step for our program. We’ve been improving and improving,” Kotelnicki said. “I’m happy the way we came out and dominated a team the way we thought as coaches we could.
“I don’t think they ever stopped our running and the play count for the defense was way down because of that.”
Afterward, Little looked back on what he gave up to get onto the field.
“I definitely didn’t expect any of this to happen,” Little said. “I’m happy with what the results were so I can’t really be mad about losing the redshirt.”