Mike Cook, NCAA.com
DULUTH, Minn. — The University of Minnesota Duluth offense did what it does best just when it was needed the most on Saturday.
Chase Vogler scored on a 34-yard run with 4:12 remaining and the Bulldogs rallied to beat Northwest Missouri State 17-13 in a Division II football semifinal.
Brian Hanson also scored a second-half touchdown for the top-ranked Bulldogs (13-0), who face Delta State University in next Saturday’s final in Florence, Ala. The Statesmen beat Shepherd University, 29-17, in a soggy semifinal in Mississippi.
“We’re as excited as we can be,” said Vogler, who left briefly in the third quarter with a twisted right knee.
Jordan Simmons scored twice for No. 3 Northwest Missouri State (12-2), the defending champions who were seeking their sixth consecutive title game appearance.
“Duluth is going to be a national champion as far as I’m concerned,” Bearcats head coach Mel Tjeerdsma said.
On fourth down and needing two yards, Vogler dropped back to pass, took a couple steps to his right as the pocket collapsed, squirted through a seam and outraced two defenders to the left pylon to complete a 13-play, 80-yard drive.
UMD, which entered the game with the fourth-best rushing offense in the country at 282.4 yards per game, ran 11 times on the drive, including two third-down conversions and the fourth-down score. The Bulldogs finished with 226 yards on the ground.
“They’re good up front. They did what they had to do to win the game,” linebacker Willie Horn said. He said the Bearcats lined up incorrectly on Vogler’s winning run, enabling the quarterback to step up into open space.
UMD had lost 25 consecutive times when trailing entering the fourth quarter, dating to a 14-10 win against South Dakota on Sept. 8, 2001.
Northwest Missouri State got the ball back with 2:44 to play and no timeouts, but stalled on fourth down at its own 45 with 1:18 remaining. It took a couple of tense minutes to confirm the drive’s finality because the officials reviewed the video.
“That’s why they have instant replay,” Tjeerdsma said. “They got it right.”
UMD head coach Bob Nielson said the play was the final example of the excellent tackling the Bulldogs did all day. “That was a sound tackle. If he gets another half-yard they got a first down and they’re still driving. Guys were in the right place doing the right things. That’s what solid defense is all about.”
Bearcats’ quarterback Blake Bolles threw three interceptions in the game, two were picked off by Cody Eich and one by Cameron Harper.
“Our focus every game is three turnovers,” Eich said. “If we accomplish that we think we have every opportunity in the world to win the game.”
The game time temperature was 9 degrees with a wind chill of minus-9, and it only got colder as the game got deeper into the night and the wind remained steady at about 20 mph.
But Bolles, who finished 19 for 29 for 141 yards, said the weather wasn’t an issue, it was more that UMD defenders kept receivers in front of them and didn’t allow for the deep throws.
“I feel like I let everybody down,” he said. “I couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities. I didn’t make the plays when I needed to make them.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bearcats effectively mixed the run and pass into the wind for a 13-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a fourth-down touchdown pass.
Two plays after an 18-yard pass from Bolles to Jake Soy was overturned by video review, Bolles found Simmons at about the 5. The sophomore running back spun around a UMD defender and went into the end zone untouched. The extra point hit the right upright.
David Nadeau made a 27-yard field goal to get the Bulldogs within three at intermission. It was his school-record 13th field goal of the season.
That was the first of what Nielson called two “big response-type” drives. The other was when UMD ran the ball 12 consecutive times — none for more than 7 yards — before Hanson scored on a 4-yard run to the left corner late in the third quarter. Simmons had scored 3 minutes earlier to give the Bearcats a 13-3 lead.
“It would have been easy to say, ‘It’s cold and we’re down 13-3,’” Nielson said. “Instead we drove down put a touchdown on the board and I thought we got some momentum in the fourth quarter. I thought we were the team more excited to be out there.”
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