NCAA FOOTBALL: SMSU offense, defense dominates Wildcats

WAYNE, Neb. – Southwest Minnesota State snapped its two-game losing streak in a big way – racking up 501 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers – to earn a 55-16 victory over Wayne State on Saturday night.

The Mustangs improved to 3-3 overall and 1-1 against the NSIC South, while the Wildcats dropped to 2-4 overall and 1-1 against NSIC South. The win was just the third all-time for SMSU in 12 games in Wayne, Neb., with the previous two victories occurring in 1987 and 2004.

The SMSU offense – which entered the game ranked third in NCAA Division II in total offense – reached 500-plus yards for the fourth straight game, despite running a season-low 68 offensive plays.

Mustangs quarterback Charlie Kern had a huge game to lead SMSU, completing 26 of 32 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for a pair of scores.

Mustangs running back Tyler Tonderum – NCAA Division II’s leading rusher – ran for 119 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries and, in the process, broke the SMSU single-season rushing record, surpassing Shad Peckenpaugh’s total of 1,172 set in 1985. Tonderum now has recorded 1,075 yards on 166 attempts in six games.

Wide receiver Anthony Dean also had a big game for the Mustangs – finishing with seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

The Mustangs defense finished the game with three interceptions, including one by Dashawn Miller, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. It was SMSU’s second interception return for a touchdown this season.

Andrew McReynolds finished with a team-high seven tackles and an interception for the Mustangs, while A.J. Page added six tackles and his first career interception.

SMSU limited Wayne State to 376 yards of offense, despite the Wildcats running 86 plays.

The Mustangs began the game’s scoring on their opening drive, moving the ball 66 yards on eight plays with Kern closing the drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Cody Condon.

Wayne State answered with a touchdown on its first drive to tie the game at 7-7, but SMSU regained the lead and never looked back just minutes later. Kern gave the Mustangs the lead by breaking free for an 11-yard run to make the score 14-7 with 7 minutes, 16 second left in the first quarter.

Following a punt by the Wildcats, SMSU used a 26-yard run by Tonderum and a 39-yard pass from Kern to Dean to set up first-and-goal at the WSC 5. Two plays later, Kern connected on a 7-yard pass to Jordan Cross to make the score 21-7.

Wayne State put together a 70-yard, 17-play drive in the second quarter, but the SMSU defense held strong and forced the Wildcats to settle for a 27-yard field goal with 4:08 remaining in the half.

The next 4 minutes proved to be the turning point of the game – as both the SMSU offense and defense – made big plays to add to the lead.

Starting on their own 25-yard line, the Mustangs offense quickly moved down the field, starting with a 15-yard reception by Britt Wickett and a pair of long runs by Tonderum to move the ball to the Wayne State 21.

SMSU faced a third-and-14 later in the drive, but a personal foul by the Wildcats gave the Mustangs new life and a first down at the 11-yard line. Tonderum made the mistake come back to haunt Wayne State as he sprinted 11 yards for a touchdown to make the score 27-10 with 1:53 left following a blocked PAT.

The SMSU defense then made one of the biggest plays of the game when Page stepped in front of a Zach Osborn pass and returned it 31 yards to give the Mustangs a first-and-10 at the Wayne State 33 with 27 seconds left before the break. Four plays later, Kern found Dean open for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give SMSU a 34-10 halftime lead.

Both teams exchanged punts to begin the second half, before the SMSU defense broke free for another big play. Miller – who missed the Sioux Falls’ game on Oct. 5 with an injury – stepped in front of a Nate Most pass and brought it back 17 yards for a touchdown to stake the Mustangs to a 41-10 advantage.

Wayne State added a touchdown on its next drive, but SMSU was never really challenged again. Kern found Dean for a 42-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter and then closed the scoring on with 2-yard touchdown run.

The Mustangs finished the game with 28 first downs, closing the game by rushing for 212 yards and passing for 289 more. WSC ended the night with 176 yards rushing, 200 yards passing and 24 first downs.

SMSU returns home Saturday to take on undefeated Minnesota State (6-0 overall, 2-0 NSIC South) with kickoff slated for 6 p.m. at The Schwan Regional Event Center. The game will be one of the biggest regular season games ever played in Marshall.

Minnesota State, which was ranked No. 2 in this week’s AFCA Top 25 poll, moved to No. 1 today following a loss by No. 1 Valdosta State, Ga., on Thursday night.

The Mustangs are 0-11 all-time versus Minnesota State, including losing 34-31 last season in double overtime.