Wayne State quarterback Tavian Willis went down with a severe ankle sprain in Week 3 against Minot State but it was hardly noticeable to outsiders looking in.
It was late in the game and it was a Wildcats’ blowout, but it was enough to keep Willis out of this past Saturday’s matchup with then No. 11 Minnesota Duluth.
In stepped freshman Nick Bohn for his first collegiate start and he delivered like a veteran.
Bohn was 14-for-23 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns in leading Wayne State to a 31-28 NSIC upset of the Bulldogs at Malosky Stadium. Bohn was effective in scrambling out of pressure and only made one big mistake, an interception he gifted to UMD linebacker Joe Kordus that may have been the result of a miscommunication, pressure or both.
In high school at Bennington, Nebraska, Bohn was part of state championships in football and baseball.
“Nick Bohn’s a winner, man,” Wayne State coach John McMenamin said. “He was a winner in high school, and he’s a winner now. The kid knows how to win.”
It’s hard to bench someone who just played like that, but that’s newspaper fodder for back home in Wayne, Nebraska, for once Willis gets healthy.
“It’s good to have a couple quarterbacks who can play,” McMenamin said. “You’ve got to have some winners. Just like the kids Duluth recruits.”
Willis has been no slouch either, completing 43 of 76 passes for 608 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, but those numbers weren’t put up against Duluth. No, Duluth is a different animal.
“Duluth is a national power, year in and year out, but we’ve played enough football with these guys where we basically knew we could match up,” McMenamin said. “Speed wise, we could match up. But what you don’t know is the intangibles. Like we told them, let’s get to the fourth quarter and we’ll see what happens. If we can get to the fourth quarter, we’ve got a shot, and fortunately, we did, but we almost gave it away. I’m really proud of our kids. I think they really expected it, and they found a way to win in the fourth quarter, and that’s something you’ve got to learn.”
Doesn’t hurt having a good kicker, either.
Alex Powders’ 35-yard field goal with 2:25 remaining ultimately proved to be the game winner after UMD fumbled the ball away on its last drive. For his efforts, Powders was named NSIC Special Teams Player of the Week.
The head scratcher of all head scratchers in this one was the second quarter, where UMD yielded 28 points at home, in a single quarter. You’d have to scour the record books to find the last time that happened.
UMD quarterback John Larson was almost flawless through three games this season but proved he’s human, going 11-for-28 passing for 115 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked three times.
McMenamin credited defensive linemen Josh Taylor and Ryan Parker for bringing most of the heat.
McMenamin was previously at Central Missouri and knows what Larson can do.
“We played Larson in the Mineral Water Bowl when he was a freshman and he threw for about 500 yards against us,” McMenamin said, laughing. “We had to try to keep him off guard. We had to.”
Every team that comes into Malosky Stadium says they come in planning to win but a lot of that is coachspeak. But if you tell yourself something long enough, you might start believing it.
“We come this way, and we’re planning on winning,” Wildcats coach John McMenamin said. “For us to get to where we want to be, we want to be on the same level as Duluth, but to do that, you’ve got to beat them. We took a big step here. They’re a great football team, but we made plays at the end.”
McMenamin was announced as Wayne State coach in December 2019 and it only took about 22 months to get his first game, with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2020 season. Then, in only his fourth game in, he got a victory most coaches can only dream about — knocking off a national power, on their turf, no less.
UMD (3-1), which slipped 11 spots to No. 22 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II national rankings, will look to bounce back this week at Minnesota State-Moorhead while Wayne State (3-1) is home against Winona State.
For a UMD team looking to make the NCAA playoffs after being denied in 2019, the leash just got considerably tighter for the Bulldogs.
“At the start of the year, we were just happy to play a football game,” McMenamin said. “To get to where you want to get to, there are stepping stones, and one of those is that you have to win one of these games. I was happy our kids were able to do it. I’m over the moon proud of these guys, and hopefully we find out a little more about our team next week. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore.”
Saints look to regroup
It had been 680 days since St. Scholastica had last played a football game and it took all one of play — one play — for the Saints to lose starting quarterback Giuliano Villalpando after the freshman injured his knee in their first MIAC football game, a 54-14 Augsburg victory at Public Schools Stadium.
While it wasn’t pretty, Auggies coach Derrin Lamker has faith in Saints coach Mike Heffernan to build a competitive football program in the MIAC, a much tougher league than the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference that CSS just left.
St. Scholastica (0-1 overall, 0-1 MIAC) is at Hamline (2-1, 0-1) this week.
Lamker previously served as head coach at Edina (Minn.) High School for three years, where he led the Hornets to the Minnesota Class AAAAAA state tournament quarterfinals in 2017.
The Saints feature a roster with 51 freshmen — 51.
“The MIAC is a tough conference, but St. Scholastica is going to be good in the future,” Lamker said. “Just give them some time. Mike is a great coach. The Saints will love being in this league — it’s a great league — and they will fit well. It will be a heckuva battle. Mike is a great guy and knows what he’s doing. He’s proven that. I’ve known him my whole life from him recruiting and me being a high school coach.
“All of us are in this for the right reasons, and he’s the same way. He wants his kids to do well, and he wants them to be great men.”
NO. 22 MINNESOTA DULUTH AT MINNESOTA STATE-MOORHEAD
What: NSIC football North Division opener
When: noon Saturday
Where: Moorhead, Minnesota
Records: UMD 3-1, Moorhead 2-2
Moorhead forecast: partly cloudy with a high of 77 and 10 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM