In a tale of two halves, the University of Minnesota Morris football team could get nothing going in the first 30 minutes but looked unstoppable at times in the second half. Unfortunately the lead that Hamline University had built early on held up to the end and the Pipers were able to emerge with a narrow 30-28 win over the Cougars at Big Cat Stadium on Saturday.
Hamline quarterback Connor Leavens could do anything he wanted in the first half except for cashing in two-point conversion attempts. The Pipers were without their usual kicker on Saturday and went for two on each of their five touchdowns. The Cougar defense held on every occasion though. That trend began as Hamline took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards in 12 plays, ending with a six-yard touchdown run from Alec Ralph. A rushing attempt from Leavens was stopped to keep the score at 6-0.
An excellent punt from Alex Happ pinned Hamline back at its own 5-yard line, but the Pipers again methodically moved the ball downfield on a 10-play, 95-yard drive that bridged the first and second quarters and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Leavens to Charlie Wilson for a 12-0 lead.
The Pipers made it three touchdowns on their first three possessions with another clock-killing drive that almost took the game to halftime. This time, it took 18 plays and nearly eight minutes off the clock for Hamline to go 63 yards. Leavens finished it off with a one-yard plunge before another incompletion on the two-point conversion. The halftime deficit for the Cougars was 18-0.
A different Minnesota Morris team came out in the second half. After a short kickoff from Hamline, the Cougars moved 59 yards in 11 plays, draining the Hamline defense with a drive lasting nearly six minutes. Garrett Elison took it in the final 10 yards and Happ added the extra point to make it 18-7.
The momentum didn’t last long as Hamline once again marched down the field and scored. Leavens threaded the needle between two defenders to hit Matt Miller with a 12-yard touchdown before the two-point conversion attempt failed again, leaving the score at 24-7.
For the second time in the quarter, Minnesota Morris would go 59 yards in 11 plays to score and slice even further into the deficit. Blake Johnson broke off a pair of long runs to give the Cougars a fresh set of downs to set up Marcus Reeb to run it in from a yard out. The extra point made it 24-14 heading into the final quarter of play.
The fourth quarter began with the Minnesota Morris defense making a stand and forcing Hamline into its first punt of the afternoon. Though that didn’t lead to a UMN Morris score, the Cougar defense stood firm a second time later in the quarter. Taking over with less than eight minutes left, Minnesota Morris went 76 yards in 16 plays, converting a pair of fourth downs along the way. The drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Reeb to Ethan Tang, making it 24-21 with 2:30 remaining.
An onside kick was recovered by Hamline. The Pipers faced a critical third-and-short situation in Cougar territory and the UMN Morris crowded the box to get the stop. Nikol Rocafort broke through the line and went untouched for 39 yards to give the visitors a 30-21 lead with just over two minutes remaining.
Minnesota Morris had one last answer. Reeb connected with Dylan Naughton, Matt Laur, and Tang to move the ball down inside the Hamline 5-yard line. From there, Reeb ran it in from a yard out and Happ’s extra point made it 30-28 with 31 seconds left.
On the second onside kick attempt of the game for the Cougars, Happ’s effort took a nice hop and got past one Hamline player before a second one was able to nab it out of the air and fall to the ground. That led the Pipers to be able to kneel out the clock and hold on for the win.
Offensively, Minnesota Morris was led by Reeb’s 21-of-36 day, accounting for 168 yards and a score through the air. Reeb added 15 carries for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson was the leading rusher for UMN Morris, racking up 74 yards on 14 carries. Laur was a frequent target late in the game for Reeb, pulling in four passes for a team-high 43 receiving yards. Johnson caught six passes for 38 yards, Naughton had five catches for 33 yards, and Tang had three for 32 yards and a touchdown.
Hunter Infanger led the Cougar defense with 10 tackles (four solo). Desmond Donalson (six solo) and Gavin Paulson (four solo) each totaled nine tackles in the game. Ryan Bouley added eight (five solo).
Minnesota Morris heads to Crown College next week for its final non-conference game of the season. Kick-off in St. Bonifacius on Sept. 25 is scheduled for 1 p.m.