FREMONT, Neb. – Midland University had to battle through injuries and fight through a stiff wind to come away with a win on Saturday. The Warriors (6-2, 4-2 GPAC) survived a difficult home game on a windy day at Heedum Field to defeat the Dakota Wesleyan Tigers (1-7, 0-6 GPAC) by a final score of 21-14. Despite being held scoreless in the second half and being minus-five in the turnover battle, the Warriors found a way to survive an upset at home.
“The big discrepancy that we overcame was being negative-five in the turnover battle,” said Midland head coach Jeff Jamrog. “This easily could have been a 35-point win. To lose that battle and still win, that’s a credit to our guys.”
Midland also had to deal with the injury bug as the Warriors had to play a significant portion of the game without their starting running back and quarterback. Senior Lukas Vopnford exited the game in the first quarter, while junior Payton Nelson would leave midway through the third quarter. Each player appeared to suffer lower body injuries and did not return to the game.
It looked like fans would be in for a barnburner from the start as both teams scored on their opening possessions. The Tigers went up 7-0 after a nine-yard touchdown run form quarterback Shaye Slaughter, but the Warriors marched down the field and tied it as Nelson ran one in from 14 yards out.
After forcing a Tigers’ punt, the Warriors struck again as the offense got a huge lift from junior Keenan Smith, who broke off an 83-yard touchdown run down the sideline to put Midland up 14-7. Smith made the most of his first action at running back since making the transition from the defensive side of the ball earlier in the week.
“We moved Keenan Smith from safety to running back this week, we kind of had a vision,” Jamrog said. “We recruited him as a running back, and for him to come in in such a short time span and pick up what we’re doing on offense is amazing.”
Smith finished with a game-high 133 yards on 20 carries while getting the bulk of the carries with Vopnford sidelined.
The Warriors scored again with 6:23 left before halftime as junior Garry Cannon rushed one in for an 11-yard touchdown, giving Midland a 21-7 halftime lead.
The second half was more stagnant, as the Warriors committed three turnovers and gained just 153 yards of total offense, while the Tigers tallied just 99 second half yards. Late in the third quarter, the Tigers did manage to find the red zone after one of the strangest plays we’ve seen this season.
DWU’s Slaughter was picked off at the Tigers’ 25-yard line by sophomore Tyler Blanco. On his return, Blanco was hit and fumbled the ball back to Dakota Wesleyan, and Eathen Gaulke returned it down the sideline all the way to the Midland three-yard line, where he was caught from behind by Jett Hampton.
The Tigers would score two plays later on a four-yard run from Luke Loudenburg to cut the Warrior lead to 21-14.
After losing Nelson in the third quarter, Midland called on junior Noah Oswald to run the offense in the fourth. While the Warriors didn’t find the end zone, Oswald was 6-9 passing for 78 yards in just over a quarter of play.
Midland’s defense held solid for most of the contest and stepped up big time in the game’s final minutes. With time winding down, Dakota Wesleyan had first-and-goal at the two-yard line after a pass interference call. The Warriors stopped the Tigers on three straight rushing attempts and pressured Slaughter into a bad throw on fourth-and goal.
“Hats off to our defense, they made some great stands in the second half,” Jamrog said. “To only give up 14 points on a day when you have five turnovers is pretty good.”
Even while dealing with heavy winds, Midland receivers had a solid day as Dalton Tremayne (5-71), Seawell (5-57), and Darrin Gentry (4-61) combined for 14 catches and 189 yards. Nelson and Oswald combined to go 16-22 on the afternoon.
Hampton led the Warriors in tackles with nine total tackles, six of them being solo for the junior linebacker. Blanco totaled seven tackles while linebackers Zach Gates and Wyatt Tremayne combined for 10.5 total tackles.
It wasn’t their best game of the season, but the Warriors fought hard and found a way to beat Dakota Wesleyan for the first time since 2011.
Midland (6-2, 4-2 GPAC) will be on the road next weekend as they travel to Crete, Nebraska to face off with the Doane (4-3, 3-3 GPAC). Kickoff on Saturday, October 27 is set for 1:00 p.m. at Al Papik Field.