DULUTH — The University of Minnesota Duluth’s ground-and-pound show put on perhaps its most impressive performance of the 2013 season Saturday — and its defensive effort wasn’t too shabby, either.
The Bulldogs rolled up nearly 500 rushing yards and held Emporia State University to its lowest total offense output of the season, while cruising to a 55-13 victory in the opening round of the NCAA II playoffs. UMD improves to 11-1 one and will now pay a visit to the Maryville, Mo., Saturday to take on the Super Region 3’S top-ranked club, Northwest Missouri State University.
No. 5 UMD and the No. 14 Hornets entered the second quarter tied at 13-13 before the Bulldogs reeled off 42 unanswered points en route to posting its most lopsided victory in 17 lifetime NCAA II playoff games. Red shirt freshman quarterback Drew Bauer made his postseason debut a memorable one by rushing 14 times for a career-high 173 yards and four touchdowns. He bolted 55 yards into the end zone on the second play of the game for the first of those scores and added three more touchdowns in the second quarter to help give the Bulldogs a comfortable 41-13 lead at the break. Junior running back Austin Sikorski added 122 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries for his fifth 100-yard game of the year (and third in a row). Steve Ierulli, one of 20 UMD seniors who were making what could be their final home appearance, scored on third-quarter runs of 60 and 5 yards to cap off the triumph.
Defensively, the Bulldogs made it a long afternoon for The Hornets, especially quarterback, Corben Jones, who was thrust in his first collegiate starting assignment due to an injury to record-setting regular Brent Wilson last week. UMD sacked Jones seven times, one sack shy of the school single-game record, and also picked him off five times. Senior strong safety Travis Nordhus and sophomore cornerback Darion Fletcher, each had two interceptions. UMD held Emporia State (9-2) to just 172 yards or 341 yards below its per game average.
The Bulldogs, who are in the NCAA playoffs for the sixth year in a row (and have a 12-5 record to show for it), will carry a nine-game winning streak into the Thanksgiving weekend clash with Northwest Missouri State (11-0). The two clubs have met three times previously in the postseason: 2002, 2008 and 2010.