The University of Minnesota Morris football team opened up UMAC play with a dramatic 38-35 victory over Westminster College (MO) on Saturday afternoon at Big Cat Stadium. The Cougars never trailed, but had the Blue Jays nipping at their heels all afternoon and it wasn’t until a missed field goal in the final minute of the game that the contest was decided. The win improves UMN Morris to 2-3 (1-0 UMAC) on the season.
Neither team was able to score on their opening possessions of the contest, with a missed 41-yard field goal from Westminster’s Tim Branneky keeping the game scoreless. That ended quickly when Minnesota Morris took the field for its second possession. On first down, a pitch play out wide to Blake Johnson was broken open for a 77-yard touchdown with Alex Happ providing the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
On the next drive, the Cougar defense stepped up with an interception of Westminster quarterback Wyatt Ellis. Alex Emmrich took the turnover 39 yards on the return to set Minnesota Morris up with the ball at the Blue Jay 31. On the second play of the drive, the Cougars again scored on a long touchdown run. This time it was Garrett Elison breaking into the open field and finding paydirt to make it 14-0. Westminster was able to answer back with a 14-yard touchdown run from Logen Walker to leave the score at 14-7 after one.
As the first quarter moved into the second quarter, Minnesota Morris drove the ball downfield only to stall inside the Westminster 10-yard line. Happ connected on a 27-yard field goal to increase the Cougar lead to 17-7.
Each of the next three possessions ended in touchdowns. Westminster pulled to within 17-14 on a nine-yard touchdown catch from Trey King. That was answered by Minnesota Morris’ third touchdown run of the day, a 10-yard scamper from Elijah Kowalzek to cap a nine-play, 70-yard drive. King then produced his second receiving touchdown of the day on a 44-yard score over the top on a pass from Ellis. A late field goal attempt by the Cougars was missed, keeping the score 24-21 at halftime.
The Blue Jays received the opening kickoff of the second half, but the Cougar defense again rose to the occasion. With Westminster going for it on a fourth down near midfield, Tayven Penninger stripped the ball and Hunter Infanger recovered it to give Minnesota Morris the ball on the Westminster side of the 50. That drive netted the Cougars a 19-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Reeb to Branden Carlson for a 31-21 edge. The Blue Jays refused to go away, cutting the UMN Morris lead back to three yet again with a touchdown pass from Ellis to Elijah Teal, making it 31-28 after three quarters.
Minnesota Morris was in business as the third quarter closed, starting the final quarter with the ball at the Westminster 13. Two runs from Johnson later, the Cougars were back up by double-digits, with Johnson scoring from four yards out.
The teams traded punts on the next two drives, milking the clock down before Westminster cobbled together an 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with a fourth touchdown pass from Ellis, this time to Walker to leave the score at 38-35.
On their final possession, Minnesota Morris was able to take more than three minutes off the clock, but the Westminster defense held and the Blue Jays regained possession with just under three minutes remaining. As time ticked away, Westminster got to the Minnesota Morris 29-yard line before three straight incompletions forced a field goal attempt from Branneky with less than 30 seconds left. Branneky had plenty of leg on the 46-yard attempt, but he missed it just wide left. One kneeldown later, the Cougars had their first 1-0 start to conference play since 2016.
Reeb ended the day 11-of-23 for 152 yards and a touchdown through the air. Johnson led all rushers in the game with 17 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Reeb had eight carries for 51 yards. Elison added six carries for 47 yards and a touchdown, while Kowalzek had five carries for 31 yards and a score. Ethan Tang was the leading receiver for the Cougars with four receptions for 50 yards.
The Cougar defense was led by Alex Emmrich who made 18 tackles (nine solo) in addition to his interception. Infanger had 12 tackles (two solo) in addition to his fumble recovery. Both Gavin Paulson and Ryan Bouley had nine tackles, with two solo tackles apiece.
Next up for Minnesota Morris is a trip to Hancock, Mich. to meet the newest member of UMAC football, Finlandia University. Kickoff from the Upper Peninsula is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Oct. 9.
FOOTBALL DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Alex Emmrich, Fy., Minnesota Morris
– Led Cougars defensively in 38-25 win over Westminster
– Recorded career high 18 tackles including nine solo
– Returned interception 39 yards to set up Cougar score