by DAVID ALBRECHT
Winona State University (WSU) had its chances on Saturday afternoon to pull off the upset of No. 5, University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), but a handful of drives with favorable field positions stalled them, and a fourth-quarter turnover hindered the Warriors’ comeback bid as the Bulldogs escaped Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium with a 37-17 victory.
On a snowy morning that yielded to sunny skies with wind gusts of over 25 mph, the two teams relied on the ground game where Duluth rushed for 205 yards compared to just five yards by Winona State. In total, the Bulldogs out-gained the Warriors 375-193.
The Bulldogs raced out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead before the Warriors used some trickery and placed Dawson Davis under center with starting quarterback Owen Burke flanked to the outside. Davis’ pass from the three-yard line was tipped by a defender but landed safely in Greg Rooney’s hands to cut the WSU deficit to 13-7 in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Duluth extended its lead to 20-7 with a lengthy drive later in the frame that exhausted over seven minutes and went 73 yards on 13 plays. The ensuing Bulldog kickoff into the howling wind only made it to the Warrior 35-yard line and a UMD personal foul set the Warriors up in great position to strike before halftime.
Winona State took over at midfield with 5:14 left on the first-half clock, but was unable to put together a successful drive as the Bulldogs forced the Warriors backward and took over on downs. Duluth converted on the short field with a field goal to pad its lead to 23-7 heading into the break.
The Warriors found themselves in a great field position yet again after halftime as Duluth’s onside kick attempt failed to begin the third quarter, but a three-and-out forced a Winona State punt.
Midway through the third quarter, Burke connected with Sam Santiago-Lloyd on the first play of a Warrior drive with a 39-yard screen pass. Burke would go on to scamper for a 12-yard gain on fourth down to extend the drive and enter the red zone. Winona State was unable to cross the goal line, but a 26-yard Paul Ortiz field goal cut the Duluth lead to 23-10.
The Bulldogs answered immediately with another lengthy drive that began in the third quarter and extended into the fourth and culminated in a touchdown that ultimately covered 75 yards to make it a 30-10 game.
The Warriors wasted little time responding themselves as Burke connected with Isaiah Frandsen for a 35-yard touchdown pass. The duo hooked up twice in the drive for a combined 66 yards. After the quick strike, it appeared Winona State was poised for a comeback with the score 30-17.
The ensuing Bulldog drive stalled, and momentum continued to build for the Warriors until five plays into the WSU march: Burke was sacked, and his fumble recovered by Duluth. Deep in WSU territory, the Bulldog drive came up short after a fourth-down attempt and the Warriors took over once again with a chance to cut into their two-score deficit with 4:42 left on the clock.
The stout Duluth defense wouldn’t budge though, and allowed Winona State just seven yards on five plays including a first down off a Bulldog pass interference. Michael Russell’s punt attempt was then blocked at the conclusion of the drive, and one play later Duluth cashed in another touchdown for the final score of 37-17.
The Bulldogs’ opportunistic scoring chances proved to be the difference in the game as Duluth also scooped and scored a touchdown after a Warrior fumble as the first quarter expired.
Frandsen tallied his third 100-yard receiving effort of the season while matching the team lead with his fifth touchdown catch in the loss.
The Warrior defense succeeded in holding Duluth to just five of 15 on third-down conversions. Devon Moore led the way with 10 tackles. Cole LaLiberty recorded Winona’s lone sack of the day and Cole Monckton broke up three Bulldog passes in the secondary.
Winona State falls to 5-3, dropping its second game to a top-10 ranked opponent, while Duluth remains undefeated at 8-0.
The Warriors will enjoy back-to-back home games and look to return to the win column next Saturday against Southwest Minnesota State University. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Winona.