The Minnesota State University Moorhead football team fell in its 2012 season opener Saturday, dropping a 49-6 decision to Wayne State (Neb.) in an NSIC contest at Alex Nemzek Field in Moorhead, Minn. The Dragons fell to 0-1 overall and in conference play, while the Wildcats improved to 1-0.
Wayne State used a balanced attack – plus five scoring players of 25 yards or longer – to down the Dragons. The Wildcats outgained MSM, 587-216.
The Dragons started 10 true freshmen in the game, in addition to a redshirt freshman quarterback (Myles Monplaisir). For many players, it was their first snaps as college players. While there were some growing pains in the opener, there also were signs of promise from the team's young players.
"Our speed and athleticism is much improved from a year ago," MSUM head coach Steve Laqua said. "There were some bigger hits and high-speed collisions. There are tangible signs of progress. The downside of that youth is the inconsistency."
Safety Shea DeJong, one of four freshmen to start in the Dragon secondary, had a game-high 12 tackles, including one for a loss. Sophomore linebacker Nick Seedorf had nine tackles, while another freshman, cornerback Sheldon Jones, had seven tackles. Junior linebacker Brad Hauer had four tackles, including a sack, while sophomore Andrew Pittman had an interception for the Dragon defense.
Offensively, MSUM was led by sophomore Brandon Schell, who rushed for 81 yards on 20 carries. Montplaisir was 10-of-25 passing for 146 yards. Freshman Adam Jiskra had an impressive debut game with four catches for 76 yards.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 14-0 lead, as quarterback Nate Most hit Adam Stark for touchdown passes of 49 and 83 yards in the opening quarter.
"When you have that many young guys not only starting for the first time, but playing for the first time, we needed to be able to weather that storm," Laqua said. "There were a couple of big pass plays where we didn't do that."
Pittman's interception snuffed out a Wildcat threat midway through the first quarter. In the second quarter, MSUM's defense slowed down a Wildcat drive, forcing a missed field goal to keep the score at 14-0.
WSC marched 53 yards on seven plays and scored on a 4-yard run by Nick Pulscher to stretch the lead to 21-0. Later in the quarter, Most found a leaping Kevin Paulsen for a 25-yard touchdown to make the score 28-0.
The Dragons put together a good drive in the closing minutes of halftime. After a 36-yard return by senior Barik Williams, MSUM marched down to the Wildcat 5-yard line, but the clock expired when Montplaisir was sacked on the final play to leave the score at 28-0.
Wayne State added a pair of scores to push the lead to 42-0. MSUM had a good drive going in the fourth as Schell accounted for 61 yards, but the march ended up one yard short as the Dragons turned the ball over on downs.
MSUM broke through in the fourth as the Dragons went on a nine-play, 75-yard march. Freshman Zayne Medhaug scored from two yards out to get the Dragons on the board, 42-6. Two big plays on the drive came when Montplaisir hit Jiskra for a 22-yard gain and senior Matt Birr for a 21-yard gain.
WSC scored in the final minutes to make the final count 49-6.
Williams had a solid day on kick returns for MSUM with four returns for 107 yards (26.9 average). Junior Wes Kramer averaged 35.1 yards per punt but also placed three inside the 20-yard line.
The Dragons' next contest is Sept. 8 at the University of Sioux Falls.
"Those young guys continued to get better throughout the game," Laqua said. "We have the building blocks in place. It's up to us as a coaching staff to continue to develop those guys."