Austin Sikorski and Logan Lauters rushed for a combined 176 yards. The Bulldog defense produced four takeaways. And the UMD football team looked very little like a club playing with a first-year head coach and quarterback Saturday night in a 32-7 season-opening victory against Sioux Falls. Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Bauer was safe but steady in his first collegiate start, accounting for 125 yards of offense, including a 15-yard touchdown scamper late in the first half that required him to shake a Cougar at the line of scrimmage and another just short of the goal line.
“It was just what I’ve been coached to do,” Bauer said. “We go through practice and now we put it into a game perspective. We kind of get enough reps in practice so it becomes instinct.”
Head coach Curt Wiese and offensive coordinator Dan Larson protected Bauer with conservative play calling on the team’s opening possession. The drive covered 65 yards in six plays, the lone pass being a lob down the sideline to Zach Zweifel that drew a pass interference penalty and did not count as an official attempt. Two plays after the flag, Sikorski ripped through the middle untouched on a draw play from 14 yards out to make it 7-0.
Sioux Falls turned it over on the ensuing drive when senior captain Colby Ring dragged down Cougar quarterback Luke Papilion and dove on the ball once it had been knocked free. UMD’s offense went three and out after the exchange, but two more Sioux Falls turnovers—an interception by Kenny Chowa and a fumble recovery by Ryan Peterson—led to a pair of Andrew Brees field goals.
Bauer’s second-quarter rushing touchdown followed three straight completions earlier on the drive and made the split 19-0 at halftime.
“The game plan going in was to put (our) offense in position for success,” Wiese said. “Make sure we weren’t off schedule and on third down. Drew did a really good job managing the game, making sure we were getting positive yards on first and second down.”
After UMD’s defense forced a quick punt to begin the third quarter, the Bulldog ground game cashed in once again with a Sikorski touchdown run to make it 25-0.
On their next turn with the ball, the Cougars put together their best sustained drive of the night, marching 72 yards for a touchdown on a one-yard Papilion keeper.
But the Bulldogs countered midway through the third, this time with No. 2 quarterback Eric Kline. UMD drove 82 yards behind Kline and pushed the lead to 32-7 after Zweifel took a crossing route and slipped a group of Sioux Falls defenders on his way to the end zone.
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter and the UMD defense ended up allowing 144 yards on the night, the unit’s lowest total since 2009. Standout receiver Carrington Hanna, who racked up nearly 900 yards to go with 10 touchdowns last season for Sioux Falls, was held to 42 yards on seven catches.
In 2012, the UMD defense surrendered an average of 357.8 yards per game, a five-year high.
“It feels exceptionally well to have a defense that can turn the ball over,” Bauer said. “They definitely put us in great position to put points on the board. They’re not thinking as much on the field. They’re just playing and being the athletes and the players that they are.”
Up next for the Bulldogs is a trip to unranked Upper Iowa for another showdown against an NSIC South Division school Saturday night. Last week’s win bumped UMD (1-0, 1-0 NSIC) up four spots to No. 7 in the national polls and marked the program’s 14th consecutive opening-day victory.
“Throughout the week, (there were) a lot of nerves for me and I’m sure a little bit for our staff,” Wiese said. “This one feels really good to get off our chest.”
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