MOORHEAD-After Minnesota State Moorhead closed its season with a 48-33 victory against Northern State on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Scheels Field at Nemzek Stadium, Dragons head coach Steve Laqua pumped his first, yelled and sprinted to the huddle of his players.
The win gave MSUM its first seven-win season since 1999. But before there were fist pumps, there were seasons that ended with heads hung low. Laqua thought back to the 2-9 finish six seasons ago when he began and the 1-10 season that followed.
"Those first seasons were really tough," Laqua said. "They tested the resolve of everybody, not just the players in the program, but the coaches, including myself. There (were) some times where you looked up at the end of the day and we went six halves without getting a first down in one of the seasons. We weren't close in very many games, and you really wondered if we were necessarily doing it the right way."
The Dragons (7-4) began this season at 2-3 before ending the season winning five of their final six games. The season ends with a four-game winning streak, the longest streak for Laqua at MSUM and the longest winning streak in a season for the Dragons since 1999.
"The feeling of knowing we were better," MSUM quarterback Demetrius Carr said when asked what turned the season around. "Beginning of the season we just made a lot of mistakes we normally do not. We just started clicking on offense a lot and kept going and being together as a team. We just really wanted to finish strong, for the seniors especially."
Carr threw for a school-record 507 yards, along with five touchdowns Saturday. The junior is already thinking about next season and pushing the program further.
"That's mainly why everyone came here, to change the program, to do something that hasn't been done in a long time," Carr said. "It's amazing, honestly, to play with the group of guys I did it with the past two years and going to next year, we know just have to keep improving. We can't get consistent or complacent on anything."
The future showed for the Dragons on Saturday, as junior Damon Gibson had 14 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns, and junior Hunter Braaten had 13 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.
"It's pretty sweet," Gibson said. "We have a lot of guys coming back, and I'm really impressed with how we played through the season. Toward the end of the season everything started clicking together and working as one unit. We haven't done that in the past. Compared to what it was before I came and even when I came, with the type of players we got and the skill level we got coming in, it's going to be fun."
After Northern State (6-5) and MSUM traded two touchdowns and a missed extra point gave the Wolves a 14-13 lead, it was freshman Zach Sweep's touchdowns with 1 minute, 21 seconds left in the first half and on the first drive of the second half that gave the Dragons a cushion.
Sweep finished with 154 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
However, Saturday's season finale was also for the seniors, and it was senior Cory Ambrose's 51-yard touchdown reception with 12:53 left in the game that put the Dragons up 21 and the game on ice.
"I don't know that you're ever satisfied that you stopped the fight and the grind, but we're satisfied that we moved the program to where it is and extremely happy for 11 seniors that came here when we were a really bad football program," Laqua said. "They came because they believed in us and our process and our vision. This isn't the end. It's just part of the build. It just happens to be a 20-year high, but there is no ceiling. We need to keep rising up."
NSU 7 7 13 6--33
MSUM 13 7 21 7--48
MSUM-Gibson 57 pass from Carr (kick failed)
NSU-Barber 67 pass from McAlvain (Shaw kick)
MSUM-Ambrose 21 pass from Carr (Tjosvold kick)
NSU-Kelly 6 run (Shaw kick)
MSUM-Sweep 2 run (Tjosvold kick)
MSUM-Sweep 1 run (Tjosvold kick)
NSU-Truen 15 run (Shaw kick)
MSUM-Braaten 10 pass from Carr (Tjosvold kick)
NSU-Culbreath 24 run (kick failed)
MSUM-Gibson 3 pass from Carr (Tjosvold kick)
MSUM-Ambrose 49 pass from Carr (Tjosvold kick)
NSU-Doherty 11 pass from McAlvain (kick missed)
RUSHING: NSU, Truen 17-68, Culbreath 1-25, Coyle 1-18, Kelly 4-17, Houchin 1-7, McAlvain 13-43. MSUM, Sweep 24-154, Colgrove 5-12, Kabambi 3-9, Carr 7-(-4).
PASSING: NSU, McAlvain 17-36-1 291 yards. MSUM, Carr 32-50-0 507.
RECEIVING: NSU, Doherty 7-127, Barber 4-103, Culbreath 4-43, Truen 1-13, Houchin 1-5. MSUM, Gibson 14-237, Braaten 13-154, Ambrose 3-74, Moore 1-34, Sweep 1-8.