In Emporia State’s first offensive series on Saturday, sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall was focused on the game and not the fact he was starting in the first home playoff game in Emporia since 1989.
Marstall knew that Minnesota Duluth entered the game with a high-powered offense. Emporia State needed to match it.
The Hornets, behind Marstall, wasted little time getting into the end zone. A little over four minutes into the game, Marstall scrambled and then darted 18 yards into the end zone for the first points of the game.
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“During the game, you don’t think too much about it,” Marstall said of playing a playoff game in his hometown. “I just wanted to put some points on the board. It was definitely exciting to put that touchdown on the board in our first drive.”
The best was yet to come from Marstall in Emporia State’s 59-26 victory over Minnesota Duluth.
“This means a lot,” Marstall said. “I’ve been in Emporia for 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this. It comes from the teams before us who built this team to where we are now.”
Everything about the first quarter indicated it was going to be a shootout with the win going to the team who had the ball last. With two minutes remaining, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Minnesota Duluth quarterback Drew Bauer to Darren Walker helped the Bulldogs close the deficit to 14-13.
Marstall responded with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Morris Williams early in the second quarter for an eight-point lead. Minnesota Duluth quickly answered back with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jason Balts that pulled Minnesota Duluth to within one again at 21-20.
Five minutes later, Emporia State started to put distance between it and Minnesota Duluth. Marstall threw another long touchdown pass, hooking up with Louis Dailey for a 64-yard touchdown play.
“Offensively, we were able to hit on all cylinders today,” said Emporia State coach Garin Higgins, whose team improved to 11-1. “We haven’t had many explosive plays this year, but we got it going today. We had a lot of fans here today. It was huge. We have been taking a lot of steps with our program, and today was another big one.”
The Hornets went into halftime ahead 28-20 and expanded it to 42-20 four minutes into the third quarter on two more touchdown passes from Marstall. Marstall finished the game completing 26-of-39 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns.
“The game plan was pretty simple,” Marstall said. “We just had to go out and execute it. All around me, guys made plays. We went into the game to try to get some isolations with their guys.”
Both teams came into the first-round playoff game hot, each winning their last 10 games. In the end, Emporia State’s offense stayed hot in the second half, and the defense held Minnesota Duluth to one touchdown in the second half.
“Bottom line is you need to make stops defensively, and you can’t turn the ball over offensively,” Minnesota Duluth coach Curt Wiese said. “Emporia State played a good football game today. I wish them luck in the second round.”
Next for Emporia State is a rematch at Northwest Missouri State. The two teams met in the season opener as well as last year’s quarterfinals.
“We have only lost four games in the last two years, and three of them are against Northwest,” Higgins said.
Two upsets in Super Region Two
No. 7 seed Tuskegee traveled to No. 2 seed Newberry and came away with a narrow 35-33 victory. A key play for Tuskegee was a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Lacey to Javarrius Cheatham that gave the Golden Tigers a 35-26 lead with 10:53 left. Newberry scored a touchdown seven minutes later, but only three minutes remained.
No. 6 seed North Greenville went on the road and beat No. 3 seed Florida Tech 27-13. North Greenville used a big second half to secure the victory, outscoring Florida Tech 24-10. North Greenville will play Tuskegee in the second round.
Augustana men’s basketball team learning about life as defending champions
In front of a near-capacity crowd, Northwest Missouri State bolted to a 24-point halftime lead on the way to an 82-71 victory.
“Our guys better understand that everybody wants to beat you,” Billeter said. “We have to play so much better than them in the first five minutes of a game, or we are going to have a first half like we did. Tonight, we did not come out ready to play.”
Northwest Missouri State, which lost only one starter from last year, was fired up. The Bearcats were seeking some revenge. Last year, Augustana beat Northwest Missouri State by two points in the regional championship game.
The Vikings, who won their first three games before facing the Bearcats, graduated three starters from last year. But Augustana’s two returning starters, junior Jordan Spencer and senior Adam Beyer, are good enough to carry a team with youthful talent. Spencer scored 24 points against Northwest, and Beyer added 11.
“We played well in the second half,” Billeter said. “That is the team we are. We need to be like we were in the second half.”
Billeter likes his team. He just wants his players to know every team they face wants to knock off the defending champions. The Vikings are now the measuring stick.