Dec. 4, 2010

Courtesy of UMD Athletics

DULUTH, Minn. -
Conditions are not generally friendly for football in December. This is emphatically the case in Duluth, where even its famous Christmas City of the North parade is held in November. It was in these blustery conditions that the University of Minnesota Duluth locked horns with Augustana College in an NCAA football quarterfinal Saturday in Duluth. Despite playing without a pair of offensive starters -- three-time All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference wide out D.J. Winfield and senior tight end Ryan Hayes -- both suspended for team rule violations, the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs still gutted out a 24-13 victory over their NSIC rivals, implementing an obstinate rushing attack reminiscent of the Jim Malosky-era of UMD football.

With the win, its school-record seventh at home this season and 13th overall against no losses, UMD advances to next Saturday's NCAA II semIfinals where it will face Northwest Missouri State University in a rematch of the 2008 national championship.

It was a savage bulldozing, fully decisive and devoid of elegance. UMD amassed 247 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 61 carries, throwing the ball just nine times in the programs first-ever December engagement at James S. Malosky Stadium. Senior running back Brian Hanson paced the ground-pounding attack with 124 yards (on a Bulldog season-high 25 carries) but there was plenty for everyone as sophomore quarterback Chase Vogler and senior running back Brad Foss combined for 126 more yards on the ground behind the driving blocks of UMDs offensive line.

We had success because of the big boys up front,” said Hanson. They did a great job of handling all the crazy fronts that Augie threw at them.”

The UMD defense was just as feral, limiting No. 9 Augustana to just 180 yards of total offense - a Vikings' season low - while sacking sophomore quarterback Josh Hanson four times. Junior outside linebacker Derrick Zappa led the hit parade with six tackles, including three for a loss. Senior nose tackle Jim Kunz was dominant, too, registering five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Kunz paced a UMD defensive line effort that senior inside linebacker Robbie Aurich praised specifically at the post-game press conference, noting their performance as a game-changer. Augustanas Hanson echoed Aurichs sentiments, calling UMD definitely the most physical defense weve seen this year.”

That physicality was on full display late in the first half when Augustana chose to attack through the air into a stiff wind with just over one minute remaining. Following two incomplete passes on their own 37-yard line, the second of which was nearly ruled intentional grounding, the Vikings again chose to pass rather than drain the clock and UMDs timeout cache with a run. This time, Kunz burst through the A-gap, collapsing the pocket around Hanson who fumbled. Aurich scooped the loose ball and skated into the end zone for a Bulldog touchdown. Augustana would never completely recover.

That was really a key play,” said UMD head coach Bob Nielson. That made it a totally different feel at halftime.”

Not that UMD wouldnt have felt confident at halftime without the scoop-and-score. The bruising first and second quarter had already produced a 204-86 edge in total offense, buoyed by 165 yards on the ground. Somewhat surprisingly, based on those numbers, things looked promising for Augustana (11-2 overall) after the games opening moments when Vikings cornerback Zac Kallas intercepted Vogler on the games second play. Hanson and Tyler Schulte promptly connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass to give Augustana a 6-0 lead. But then sophomore kicker Drew Behrens missed the extra point and UMD seized a bit of momentum, embarking on an 11-play, 62-yard touchdown drive capped by Hansons scoring plunge to assume a 7-6 lead. The Bulldogs rushed on every play of the drive, gouging Augustanas line and foreshadowing the days theme.

"We're a team that wants to run the football first," said Nielson. "Today we were able to do that. It wasn't easy because we were going up against an awfully good defensive team. The big thing was we were patient with our running game and kept the football away from them. We had the ball twice as long as they did (39:16 to 20:44) and anytime you can do that you have a pretty good chance at winning the football game."