Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College quarterback Danny Jackson got off to a slow start but recovered to throw for 171 yards and a touchdown to lead the Thunder to a 36-3 victory over Minnesota State-Fergus Falls Saturday, Aug. 24, at the NBC Sports Complex in Superior.

In his first start for the Thunder, Jackson missed on his first five passing attempts and was sacked for a 10 yard loss in the first quarter and was replaced for a short time by fellow freshman Anthony Boyd.

“I’m proud of Danny, I felt he fought through a little adversity,” Coach Robert Smith said. “He had a couple miscues and he ran a couple plays totally wrong, so I set him down for a quarter to see the game from a different perspective — to see what’s open and what’s not and read coverages just because we only had three weeks of preparation...It was just finding his guy, looking off the safety off and making the throw.”

In his first series under center, Boyd connected with Mason Klinger for a 37-yard completion, with the Thunder forcing a Fergus Falls timeout by rushing up to the line for another play. Smith hopes to use a fast-paced spread offense to keep opposing defenses off guard.

Fergus Falls found its footing following the timeout and forced FDLTCC to punt, but the Smith saw a new way to attack the Spartan defense.

“In the first half, our guys were staying on the double team too long,” Smith said. “So once we got off the double team and broke out the second level it freed things up.”

Two series later, Boyd connected with Eric Grant for a 45-yard score and a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Jackson returned in the second half and through his own 37-yard pass to Klinger, setting up a 15-yard touchdown run to give FDLTCC a 17-3 lead.

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College's Mason Klinger catches a touchdown pass in front of Minnesota State-Fergus Falls' Devaughn Prince during Minnesota College Athletic Conference opener Saturday, Aug. 24, in Superior. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College's Mason Klinger catches a touchdown pass in front of Minnesota State-Fergus Falls' Devaughn Prince during Minnesota College Athletic Conference opener Saturday, Aug. 24, in Superior. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

After adding a field goal, Jackson tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Klinger to give the Thunder a 27-3 lead.

If the Thunder offense took most of the first half to find its footing, the defense thoroughly dominated Fergus Falls from the opening snap. The Spartans managed only 97 yards of total offense and the Thunder sacked quarterback Joshua Mitchell 13 times — five by freshman Jhanviey Mitchell alone.

'Culture' change

The fast start is nothing new for the Thunder who started 3-0 in 2018, but finished the season with six straight losses.

Injuries and small numbers cost FDLTCC in 2018, but Smith said he and recruiting coordinator Greg Padgitt are trying to "change the culture" around the entire Thunder athletic program.

The football team didn’t have enough players to step in when some key contributors were injured, but the team at least finished the season. The volleyball team, however, was forced to cancel its season because it couldn’t field a team, and the women's basketball team — also coached by Smith — lost all its games and was rarely competitive.

The men's team was more competitive than the women's, but still struggled to pick up wins.

Smith said he and Padgitt has plenty of connections with local coaches in Minnesota and around the country to bring quality athletic talent to the school

There is simply not enough space at the school to house the athletes he brings in. FDLTCC has housing for less than 100 students to stay on campus, rooms that are up for grabs for all students, not just athletes.

Vermilion Community College in Ely, by contrast, has space for more than 200 students to live on campus Smith said. Smith coached at Vermillion before coming to FDLTCC.

FDLTCC (1-0) will play North Dakota State College of Science at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, in Wahpeton.