Football can be perfect and beautiful. It can also suck complete and total ass for everyone involved. Today, we travel to Mankato, Minn. for the latter experience.
Last Saturday, the undefeated Mankato State Mavericks (Adam Thielen’s alma mater) hosted the Tarleton State Texans in an NCAA Division II playoffs quarterfinal game that quickly dissolved into snowbound absurdity. The city was blanketed in eight inches of snow over the weekend, half of which arrived during the second half alone. It snowed so much that the city of Mankato declared a “snow emergency.” And yet, at Blakeslee Stadium, still they played on. Look at this madness.
The Mavericks won, 13-10, thanks largely to a bizarre and interminable march that covered the length of the field and over 20 percent of the game clock. With 11:19 left in the third quarter and facing a 10-0 deficit, MSU got the ball on their own three-yard line. What followed was the longest drive in NCAA history at any level.
MSU took 27 plays to get to the end zone, holding the ball for 12:09 in the process. They converted five third downs and two fourth downs before finally scoring on fourth-and-goal from the five. The inclement weather conditions, which also included high winds, forced MSU to keep running the ball over and over again, which they did for the first 26 plays of the drive, a streak that would have made Woody Hayes blush. Junior running back Nate Gunn ran it 18 times on the drive alone, and he finished with 50 carries for the day. Finally, on fourth-and-goal from the five, MSU switched it up and called a pass, which went for a touchdown. Here is Shane Zylstra, younger brother of Vikings receiver Brandon Zylstra, making the final play of the long march.
The Mavericks then scored, much more quickly, a few drives later. That was enough to win, and they probably have the blizzard to thank for tilting the game in their favor. Tarleton State players had sideline heaters, but MSU opted to embrace their identity as a Minnesota-ass team of snow-loving weirdos:
Gunn said his teammates simply wanted to embrace being a cold-weather team.
“Heaters didn’t even pop up in the conversation,” he said.
Gunn shed his gloves at one point because they became waterlogged and he worried about fumbling. His hand towel also was soaked. His fingers were numb.
Mankato State hosts fellow undefeated powerhouse Ferris State this weekend in the D-II semifinal. Unfortunately, the weather forecast seems decent.