Saturday, December 18, 2010

UMD Football captures National Championship with last second Heroics

David Nadeau, by his own admission, has had better kicks during his three years at the University of Minnesot-Duluth, but none have been more important than the one he booted Saturday afternoon in Florence, Ala. The junior placekicker put an exclamation point on a perfect season for the Bulldogs by nailing a 32-yard field goal with no time remaining while sending UMD to a 20-17 victory over Delta State University in the NCAA Division II championship game.

“When it came off of my foot, I knew it would be close,” said Nadeau. “It wasn’t the best kick I ever hit before by any means, but when I saw it going up, I knew then it was going in so I just turned around and ran.”

With the win, No. 1 UMD not only takes home a second national championship (only seven other schools have claimed multiple titles) but became the first NCAA II club ever to go 15-0 in a season more than once, duplicating the mark turned in by the 2008 Bulldogs on their way to the school's first NCAA II crown of any kind. Unranked Delta State, which like the Bulldogs were making their second title game appearance, concluded the year at 11-4.

“What a great game,” said UMD head coach Bob Nielson. “It was one of those days when both teams had an opportunity to win and it could have gone either way. We just kept plugging away and believing and when you do that, good things usually happen.”

UMD, which was meeting Delta State for the first time ever, struck first by getting a 32-yard field goal from Nadeau four minutes in, eight plays after junior Zach Hulce brought back the opening kickoff 47 yards on his first return as a Bulldog. Freshman Joe Reichert recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Delta State 34-yard line, but UMD was unable to capitalize -- instead giving the ball back to the Statesmen deep in Bulldog terrritory after Alex Miller’s punt was blocked (for the first time this season) following a muffed snap and returned to the UMD 11. Three snaps later, Micah Davis and Maurice Moore hooked up on an eight-yard scoring strike to give the Statesmen a 7-3 lead. The Bulldogs answered right back on their next series as junior quarterback Chase Vogler found a wide open Ben Helmer in the endzone from 14 yards out to cap a nine-play, 76-yard drive and put the Bulldogs back on top by three. One possession after the Statesmen were snuffed by the Bulldogs on a fourth-and-goal situation at the UMD two, Davis hit Chance Davis with a 16-yard touchdown pass and Delta State went into the half up 14-10.

The Bulldogs, who turned in another key defensive stand midway through the third quarter, stopping Delta State for no gain on fourth down and two from the UMD six, regained the lead with 8:20 to go in regulation when senior running back Brad Foss rumbled 12 yards and his 12th touchdown of the season, the final one of his career. Delta State forced a tie at the 2:22 mark of the fourth quarter on Matt Snyder’s 27-yard field goal after they were unable to punch the ball in on three tries from within the Bulldog two-yard line. It was another example of the bend-but-don’t break defense which has been a trademark of UMD all season long.

“I thought we executed extremely well in the red zone today, particulary in third and fourth down situations,” said Nielson, whose Bulldogs are a staggering 43-2 over their last 45 games. “We got some penentration in some critical times when we needed to.  But that’s the way the game was -- one play could make the difference.”

Senior running back  and 2010 playoff run star Brian Hanson closed out his collegiate career by rushing for a game-high 99 yard on 16 carries while Vogler rushed 21 times for another 83 yards. In addition, the All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division signal caller completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards with no interceptions. His favorite target was Hansen, who had three receptions after coming into the day with just five catches all year.

On the other side of the football, sophomore free safety Cameron Harper spearheaded a Bulldog defensive unit which also forced four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception), finishing the afternoon with 17 total tackles, which was one shy of the school mark. All-American Kiel Fechtelkotter was credited with 14 sotps while fellow senior inside linebacker Robbie Aurich figured in on 10 tackles. Fechtelkotter and Aurich were the only two active Bulldogs who started in the 2008 title tilt.

"That 2008 team was, as a whole, older than this one, mainly because we had more seniors,” said Nielson. “But yet, they are a lot alike. They both had a lot of fun together and believed in each other. When David went out there for that final field goal everyone believed in him. When it was fourth and one, everyone believed that our defense could stop them and when we needed a big play to put us in field goal range at the end. Everyone believed the offense could do it. Most importantly, everyone believed from our first day of practive that we could be national champions and here we are.”

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