MOORHEAD, Minn. — The fourth quarter of Winona State’s 28-26 NSIC football victory over MSU Moorhead on Saturday looked more like it was being played at an amusement park than on the football field at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.
It was a wild ride of a rollercoaster with ups, downs, twists and turns and the final twist went the Warriors’ way.
Paul Ortiz finally gave WSU the lead for good as he made a 35-yard field goal with 46 seconds to play. And Michael Gomez salted it away for the Warriors stripping the ball from MSUM quarterback Matthew Plasterer on a sack and allowing WSU to just kneel for the victory.
After trailing for all but 14 seconds of the first half, the Dragons climbed out of the hole to take a 26-23 lead on a 1-yard plunge up the middle by Ty Jochim with 9 minutes to go. And then things got wild.
Veteran WSU return man Jake Balliu fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving MSUM the ball right back at the Warriors 24. Three plays later — after a sack of Plasterer by Gomez — WSU linebacker Joe Perhats grabbed his second interception of the game and returned it 46 yards back to the Dragons 34.
After a 22-yard drive stalled out at the 12-yard line, Dragons defensive lineman Derek Porozinski blocked a 29-yard field goal try by Ortiz. And MSUM took over at the 21.
The Dragons went three-and-out on their next drive and lined up to punt from the WSU 20. The snap flew over the punter’s head and out the back of the end zone for a safety, making it a 1-point game 26-25 with the Dragons needing to kick the ball back to the Warriors.
Blake Ochsendorf kicked a boomer that was covered beautifully by his coverage team and it appeared the Warriors were going to start the drive at their own 31. But the punter was offside. They lined up to kick again — this time from the 15 rather than the 20 — and he booted a wobbler that bounced at the 50-yard line where Isaiah Hall picked it up off a bounced and took it back to the Dragons 24. It was Hall’s second long return of the game after returning the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
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Two holding penalties moved the Warriors back out of field goal range to the 44, but WSU quarterback Owen Burke found Balliu cutting across the middle of the field for a 26-yard completion on second-and-30. The Dragons stopped WSU running back Landon Jacobson for no gain on third down and Ortiz came out for the game-winning kick.
The Warriors built up their first-half lead with Hall’s kick return touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Burke to Balliu, and a pair of Ortiz field goals.
Plasterer made it a one-score game for the Dragons with a 5-yard run on first-and-goal from the 5 with 4:15 remaining in the third. He bootlegged out to his right, looking to throw, but kept it and sprinted for the right pylon before diving in for the score. A pass to Grady Bresnahan on the two-point try was off-target and the Warriors kept the lead 20-18.
Neither team was able to run the ball successfully as the Warriors averaged 3.3 yards per attempt and the Dragons averaged 1.3. Jacobs carried the load for the Warriors with 22 carries for 68 yards as Sam Santiago-Lloyd left the game with an injury early on.
Tyler Anderson had five catches for 101 yards for the Warriors. And Burke was 14-for-23 for 220 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Plasterer — a true freshman making just his second start in place of injured QB Jakup Sinani — passed for 349 yards for the Dragons.
The Warriors (3-2, 2-2), are back in action on Saturday as they host Minot State at 2 p.m. for Homecoming.