by BARRY ALLEN
From The Winonan, WSU’s student newspaper
The Winona State Warrior football team ended its 2018 season on Saturday with a dramatic 24-20 victory over the Concordia St. Paul Golden Bears.
It may have been Senior Day at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium, but it was junior backup quarterback John Rumpza who stole the show, providing the comeback win for the Warriors.
Rumpza — who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, underwent successful surgery, chemotherapy and rehab before rejoining his teammates midway through the spring season earlier this year — had had limited action on the field so this season. However, that changed quickly as sophomore starting quarterback Owen Burke was injured on a sack late in the third quarter.
Concordia St. Paul led the Warriors 17-14 when Rumpza took the field in the third quarter. Junior kicker Paul Ortiz was able to even the score with a 34-yard field goal heading into the fourth.
The final quarter started with Concordia St. Paul adding a field goal on its first drive to make the score 20-17. Both defenses locked down for the next 10 minutes of action, with neither team scoring during that time.
One of the turning points in the contest came late in the fourth quarter when the Golden Bears faced a fourth-and-two at the Warriors’ 37-yard line. Instead of attempting a more than 50-yard field goal, Concordia St. Paul went for it on fourth down, resulting in a huge sack by sophomore Carter Duxbury. The sack gave John Rumpza and the Warrior offense the ball back, trailing by three, with 2:49 left on the clock.
Rumpza showed great poise and didn’t crack under pressure as he orchestrated a seven-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in the game-winning touchdown pass to junior Connor Schulz, who snagged eight passes for a career-best 92 yards and a score during the game.
Senior offensive lineman Colin Valley praised Rumpza’s performance following the game.
“I’m really happy for [Rumpza],” Valley said. “He has been working hard all year and on the last game he got his chance. He led us down the field and then made a big throw to give us the lead.”
With time dwindling on the final drive by the Golden Bears, senior Josh Hawes sealed the win with his first interception of the season.
Hawes’ interception was just one during the match, where the Warrior defense posted a season-high five interceptions. Sophomore Isaiah Hall caught two for the second straight week and junior Romario Gayle added another.
Before the game, 12 Warrior seniors were honored before kickoff on Saturday and Eric Birth was one of them. Birth gained 39 rushing yards in his final game as a Warrior, which brought his career rushing yards to 1,572, good enough for 17th in program history. Defensive end Michael Ferrante tallied one sack and brought his career total to 17.5 — ninth in program history.
The Winona State Warriors ended the 2018 season with an 8-3 record and reached the eight-win plateau for the 14th time in head coach Tom Sawyer’s 23 years of coaching Warriors.
When asked what to look forward to for next year’s Warrior football team, Valley hopes the team will continue to improve.
“We had a lot of individuals who gained good experience this year,” Valley said. “With Nick Pridgeon and Michael Gomez healthy the defensive side of the ball instantly improves. Offensively, we have a lot of good athletes that will start to shine in the coming years.”