'Dogs down -- and out (with video)
Wayne State (Mich.) cornerback Aaron Cornett admitted he made a mistake late in the Warriors' NCAA Division II quarterfinal against Minnesota Duluth by not forcing Bulldogs' receiver D.J. Winfield to the inside.
Instead, Winfield got behind him, but when Cornett turned to recover, Christmas came early.
Cornett's interception of an underthrown Chase Vogler pass with 2:32 remaining helped secure Wayne State's 31-25 victory over the defending national champions before 3,659 fans at Malosky Stadium.
Troy Burrell had 11 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and the Warriors (11-3) took advantage of turnovers and big plays on special teams to beat the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (11-3).
Unranked Wayne State, a sixth seed playing in its first NCAA playoffs, advances to next week's national semifinals against Winston-Salem.
"We've never expected anything less than what we've accomplished," Cornett said. "We expect to keep winning, and that's the mentality that is consistent with every player in the locker room. Numbers don't mean much to us so long as we win."
The numbers in the first half appeared to point toward a UMD victory. The Bulldogs outgained Wayne State 126-64 and controlled nearly 21 of the first half's 30 minutes, but still found themselves trailing 7-3 as the Warriors recovered a UMD fumble and blocked a punt.
The second half was just the opposite as Wayne State started the third quarter with a touchdown drive powered by its rushing game. UMD ran only two offensive plays in the entire quarter.
"Our defensive coaches were complaining they had too many snaps in the first half, so we decided we better hold onto the football a little more," Wayne State coach Paul Winters joked. "We tried to figure how they were attacking us and simplify how we were attacking them. We knew we were physically strong enough to knock them off the ball -- if we could find them -- and we were having a hard time finding them in the first half. Once we got it settled down, we got it rolling a little bit on offense."
Winfield answered the challenge when he returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs converted the two-point conversion to make it Wayne State 14-11.
Winfield, playing in his first game back after serving a one-year suspension for violating team rules, was outstanding, catching six passes for a team-high 101 yards, returning two kicks for 132 yards and getting a hand on a punt block.
UMD coach Bob Nielson declined a media request to have Winfield attend the postgame press conference but did comment on the senior receiver.
"D.J. is a good football player, and I'm happy for him that he was able to contribute in the way that he did," Nielson said. "Our guys love him."
But every time UMD struck, Wayne struck right back.
The teams exchanged touchdowns to make it 31-25 when the UMD defense finally got the stop it was looking for and the Bulldogs took over at their own 23 with 4:05 to play.
UMD, which had won six straight playoffs games, including four by three points and two in overtime, appeared primed for another miracle as it drove to midfield, but then Cornett made his big interception.
UMD got the ball back at its own 11 with 43 seconds remaining and drove to the Wayne State 39, but Vogler's Hail Mary pass to the end zone as time expired fell incomplete and the Bulldogs' 14-game home winning streak was snapped.
Vogler, a junior, shook off a first half in which he was sacked five times to throw for 202 yards and a touchdown, while senior Zach Hulce rushed 16 times for 76 yards before being ejected for fighting in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs managed only 98 rushing yards as Vogler rushed 10 times for negative 36 yards.
"Obviously that one pick I'd like to have back, but otherwise I wouldn't really take anything back from this game or this entire year," Vogler said. "We won together, and we lost together, but it's been a pleasure on my end playing with this senior class. They showed me what it's like to be a winner, and what it takes to be a champion. You know, I wouldn't want to change a thing."
The normally stoic Nielson had to compose himself at the start of the postgame press conference, praising a senior class that helped the Bulldogs go an unprecedented 52-5 over the past four seasons.
"It's hard not to be a little bit emotional," Nielson said. "You watch that football game, and that shows you what kind of young men we have. They just kept battling and made that game exciting. They put us in a position where we could win. As I told our seniors in the locker room, it has been a real pleasure: 50-some wins, four conference championships, two national titles, four playoff berths ... that's a great group of young men.
"They enjoyed playing football games here, and that's not just because we won a lot of games. It's because we won a lot of games doing things the right way."
Wayne State (Mich.) 0-7-17-7--31
Minnesota Duluth 3-0-8-14--25
WSU -- David Nadeau 39 field goal, 8:38
UMD -- Troy Burrell 11 pass from Mickey Mohner (Stefan Terleckyj kick), 9:16
WSU -- Chet Privett 1 run (Terleckyj kick), 6:50
UMD -- D.J. Winfield 87 kickoff return (Kris Olson pass from Chase Vogler), 6:37
WSU -- Burrell 38 pass from Mohner (Terleckyj kick), 4:11
WSU -- Terleckyj 38 field goal, :44
UMD -- Brian Lucas 22 run (Nadeau kick), 13:47
WSU -- Toney Davis 7 run (Terleckyj kick), 9:32
UMD -- Aaron Roth 11 pass from Vogler, 6:29
A -- 3,659.
First downs 16 22
Rushes-yards 41-103 38-98
Passing 190 202
Comp-Att-Int 15-21-0 16-29-1
Kick returns-yards 4-94 6-163
Punts-yards 5-189 2-27
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 8-80 4-45
Time of possession 31:55 28:05
RUSHING -- WSU, Davis 22-76, Josh Renel 10-22, Dominique Maybanks 1-8, Privett 2-2, Burrell 2-8, Mohner 4-(-5). UMD, Zach Hulce 16-76, Lucas 10-59, Winfield 1-0, Roth 1-(-1), Vogler 10-(-36).
PASSING -- Mohner 15-21-0-190, Vogler 16-28-1-202, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING -- WSU, Burrell 11-163, Renel 2-16, Maybanks 2-11. UMD, Winfield 6-101, Roth 4-42, Zach Zweifel 3-41, Ben Helmer 2-15, Lucas 1-3.