The Winona State University (WSU) football earned the right to keep “The Sledge” another year, defeating Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) 26-14 on Saturday, October 16, in Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium. 

Senior quarterback Owen Burke was 17-of-31 for 193 yards with a pair of touchdowns to lead the Warriors in the win over the Mustangs, claiming the BIG Athletics / Adidas MVP trophy for WSU in the process. Burke connected with eight different receivers, led by Ethan Wittenburg, who had five catches for 46 yards. Jaylen Schleicher and Jake Balliu both had three catches on the day, with Balliu accounting for the first Warrior touchdown. Sawyer Maly also had a touchdown grab, scoring his second touchdown of the season. 

Southwest Minnesota State was able to keep the game within reach due in large part to the play of Marshawn Reese, who had eight total tackles including four solo stops. Reese received the SMSU Sledge MVP award for his efforts, which included holding Winona State to a pair of field goals in the first half after the Warriors gained the red zone with a fresh set of downs. WSU placekicker Jacob Scott connected from 27 yards on two separate occasion to put points on the board for the Warriors. 

Defensively, Winona State held SMSU to 15 first downs and 88 total rushing yards. Richard Azunna and Mitch Snitker stood out for WSU, with both players racking up seven tackles. Snitker had three pass breakups in the secondary and Azunna had one. Devon Moore was a one-man wrecking crew, racking up five stops, all the solo variety. Vernon Porte and Clay Scheuffner had six and seven tackles, respectively. Luc Leszczynski collected two fumble recoveries and had three tackles. 

On offense, WSU opened both halves with scoring drives, collecting two field goals in their first two drives of the first quarter and back-to-back touchdowns to open the second half. Dominik London was the top Winona State ballcarrier in the game, earning 91 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Javian Roebuck had 64 yards on nine carries including a longest run of 38 yards. Jake Balliu had 71 all-purpose yards, with a 25-yard kickoff return and 16-yard punt return to his credit.  

Although they never led in the game, Southwest Minnesota State made things interesting late in the game after registering two scores to climb back in the contest at 26-14. The Mustangs had two possessions late in the fourth quarter which could have resulted in scores, but the Warrior defense held tight both times. An eight-play Mustang drive stalled out with 41 seconds remaining in the game to end any scoring threat, allowing Winona State to regain possession and end the contest.

For head coach Tom Sawyer, who was honored by the NSIC and commissioner Erin Lind prior to the game, the win moved his record to 194-86, and pushed WSU to 4-3 overall on the season. It also was his fifth straight opportunity to claim the Sledge, a staple in the Warrior trophy case for the past five years. 

Individually, Owen Burke moved into third all-time in terms of total passing yards in Winona State history with 6,517 in his career. Jake Goettl (1995-98) is second with 7,568 and Jack Nelson (2013-16) is tops at WSU all-time with 12,007.

After two home games in a row, Winona State will travel next Saturday when they take on the University of Sioux Falls on October 23.  Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. against the Cougars.

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