GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As Kyler Banks caught Tristan Robbins’ pass, stealthed past a Northern State defensive back and saw nothing but green turf ahead of him, the Alerus Center crackled with life.
Banks coasted into the end zone, 70 yards from where he began, and suddenly, you could sense something unbelievable. Minnesota Crookston, losers of its last two games by a combined score of 144-0, led the Wolves by a touchdown midway through the second quarter.
The Golden Eagles had all the momentum, all the energy in the building and nothing to lose. It may not have been their building, but it was their Senior Night, and in a couple hours — if they kept playing like this — it might become their first win of the season.
But right before halftime, Northern State marched down the field and scored on a 35-yard pass from Hunter Trautman to Dakota Larson. Then, Alex Folz (Fr., RB) fumbled on the kick return, and the Wolves recovered and punched it in four plays later to go up 21-14.
All in 40 seconds.
The “big mo” had left the home sideline for good.
Northern State outscored Minnesota Crookston, 21-3, in the second half, running away with a 42-17 win in both teams’ second-to-last game of the season. The Wolves improved to 6-4, while the Golden Eagles dropped to 0-10.
After three inconsequential drives to begin the game, the Golden Eagles blew up wide receiver Dakota Larson on a reverse, jarring the ball loose. Dylan Wheeler (Rs. Fr., DE) recovered in the end zone for the 7-0 lead.
“We talked about getting off to a fast start, came out there and did some good things right away,” said Minnesota Crookston coach Mark Dufner. “That defensive score early kind of ignited a fire, certainly for that first half.”
But midway through the first, Minnesota Crookston bailed Northern State out by failing to down Folz’s 57-yard punt inside the five. The Wolves responded with an 11-play that began at their own 20 and ended in the end zone, tying the game at the start of the second quarter.
Not only did the underdogs not go away, however, they looked flat-out dominant on defense and explosive on offense for much of the first half. In fact, the Golden Eagles threatened to run away with the game on multiple occasions, but it was mostly themselves, not the Wolves, standing in their way.
After Banks’ touchdown, Robbins hit Jonattan Mudd (Sr., WR) for a 46-yard completion in stride. The duo connected again a series later on a 33-yard pitch-and-catch down the sideline. But a false start and a holding penalty, respectively, pushed Minnesota Crookston out of scoring range.
“The muff on the kick return was a critical play, but there were some other things we gotta get cleaned up as well,” Dufner said. “It doesn't ever boil down to one play.”
So despite averaging over 10 yards per play in the second quarter, the Golden Eagles went into halftime wondering what could have been, rueing what was and desperately trying to figure out how to get it back.
They never did find it. Trautman, who completed 18-of-26 passes for 226 yards and three scores, seemingly couldn’t miss, while Isaiah Cherrier and Jack Anderson gashed Minnesota Crookston on the ground.
Recovering from an early Northern State touchdown, the Golden Eagles pulled back to 28-17 on a Jared McLemore field goal, thanks to another big play — Jalin Scott’s 45-yard pass to Mudd — but that was all they could manage.
Trautman hit Greg Lux on a perfectly-thrown back-shoulder fade to the end zone to make it a three-score game, and Scott missed Folz on fourth and goal with 14 minutes to go. At that point, it was all over but the shouting.
Minnesota Crookston’s 410 passing yards smashed a program record, as did Mudd’s 170 yards on eight catches. The Golden Eagles outgained the Wolves by 29 and gained 21 first downs, eight of which came in the final quarter. Their 467 yards were their most all season.
“We've been through ups and downs, but I never quit,” Mudd said. “Just go out there and control what I can control, that's all I can do.”
But those gaudy statistics weren’t enough to prevent another blowout loss. They made this one, however, a little different — a reminder of how even when so much is going so right, Minnesota Crookston is still so far away.
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