The University of Minnesota Morris matched the program’s longest winning streak since 2012 on Saturday night with a thrilling 42-35 win over Crown College at Big Cat Stadium. The Cougars jumped out to a comfortable early lead, but the Storm twice came back to tie the game in the second half before Branden Carlson sealed it with a long catch and run to give the Cougars a 42-35 victory. Minnesota Morris remains locked in a tie for first place in the UMAC with a record of 4-3 (3-0 UMAC) on the year.
Turnovers played a part in the contest, but with each team putting up over 400 yards of offense apiece, it was a game that largely depended on the offenses not being their own worst enemies. That was on display in the first quarter. Minnesota Morris received the opening kickoff and needed only two plays and less than one minute off the clock to hit paydirt. Marcus Reeb connected with Carlson for a 25-yard completion on the first play from scrimmage and Garrett Elison ran it in from 36 yards out on the second play of the drive. Alex Happ tacked on the extra point to make it 7-0.
On Crown’s second play from scrimmage, a throw from Jared Gilmore was deflected and Alex Emmrich was on the spot to pick it off and return it to the Crown 42. An early chance to blow the game open was snuffed out when Reeb ran for a first down into the Storm red zone, only to be stripped of the ball and have the fumble recovered by the visitors to keep it within a touchdown.
Crown took advantage of the Minnesota Morris error by going on a 15-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from Gilmore to Cole Mistretta to knot the score at 7-7.
The Cougars ended the first quarter with the lead however. A short kickoff and a nice return from Elison set up UMN Morris in Crown territory and Elison ran in his second touchdown of the day moments later from 14 yards out to put Minnesota Morris back out in front, 14-7. After a fourth-down run was stopped by Carter Maurice and the Cougars got the ball back on downs, Reeb found Carlson for a 25-yard score to make it 21-7 after one quarter of play.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Gilmore was intercepted by Gavin Paulson to give Minnesota Morris good starting field position near midfield. Reeb found Elison for 31 yards on the first play of the drive and a six-yard pitch-and-catch from Reeb to Carlson finished it off as the Cougars took a commanding 28-7 lead with 13 minutes left until halftime.
Crown was quick to respond. The ensuing drive for the Storm covered 75 yards and was finished off by a 13-yard touchdown run from Avory Caruthers. After Minnesota Morris was forced to punt, Crown again went on a long drive, with this one finished off by another Mistretta touchdown catch to make it 28-21 at the break.
Halftime adjustments paid off for the defenses as neither Minnesota Morris nor Crown was able to score on the first five possessions of the third quarter. That changed when the Cougars took over on the Crown 42-yard line and used some trickery to complete a 40-yard pass from Reeb to Dylan Naughton, pushing the ball down to the two-yard line. Elijah Kowalzek pounded it in from there, giving UMN Morris a 35-21 lead. After an unsuccessful fourth-down conversion attempt from Crown, that score held up going into the fourth quarter.
The Storm were not done just yet. In possession as the fourth quarter started, Crown once again pulled within a touchdown as Mistretta caught his third touchdown of the day from Gilmore to make it 35-28. Following a defensive stop, the Storm took over on their own 15 and drove the length of the field in 13 plays with Gilmore finding Mistretta for a fourth touchdown. The point after from Jonah Osborne tied things up at 35-35 with just over five minutes left.
Minnesota Morris took over on its own 40 after a short kickoff from Crown and Reeb found Carlson for a 17-yard completion to convert a big third-down play and keep the chains moving. Facing another third down, this one from the Crown 36, Reeb again went to Carlson and the senior wideout not only picked up the first down, but then weaved his way through a host of Storm defenders on his way to the end zone with just over three minutes to go.
On Crown’s final possession, the Storm were able to pick up a pair of first downs and drive into Minnesota Morris territory with less than two minutes to play, but Emmrich and Mondo Calderon helped stop Caruthers for no gain on first down from the Cougar 33. That was followed by the Storm using their final timeout and Gilmore then uncorked three straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs and let Minnesota Morris go into the victory formation.
Reeb had another nice game behind center, going 14-of-21 for 260 yards and three scores. Elison was the leading rusher for the Cougars with eight carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Carlson hauled in five passes for 109 yards and all three of Reeb’s touchdown passes.
The Cougar defense was led by Hunter Infanger’s 14 tackles (eight solo). Emmrich had nine tackles (five solo) in addition to his interception. Paulson tacked on eight tackles (four solo) along with his interception of Gilmore.
Minnesota Morris goes on the road next weekend for a big matchup at Martin Luther College. The game in New Ulm on Oct. 23 is set for a 1 p.m. kick-off.