Warriors come out on top in opening game

Allison Mueller

Sam Thiel/ Winonan

Last year Winona State University’s football team opened the season with a loss against Bemidji State. If there were any pre-season doubts surrounding the Warriors’ opening game this year, they were most likely silenced.

The Warriors won heir first game of the season against Northern State University 47-13 Thursday night in Aberdeen, S.D.

The Warrior offense was in mid-season form right from the start, posting a full game stat line at 405 total yards, 255 yards passing and 150 yards rushing, in the first half. By the end of the game, Winona State netted a total of 603 offensive yards. In addition, the Warriors only had five fouls for a total of 55 yards.

“The team played well all night,” coach Tom Sawyer said. “We got a fast start with some big plays and great blocking. The defense held their ground and played excellent.”

Sophomore quarterback Jack Nelson continued his success from 2013, racking up 255 passing yards in the first half. Nelson ended his night completing 25 of his 48 pass attempts for 398 yards, the seventh most passing-yards in Warrior history, as well as a career record-tying five touchdowns.

Junior wide receiver Josh Mikes recorded a career game of his own; snagging 13 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Mikes’ four receiving touchdowns are tied for most in team history (Chris Samp twice in ’03 and ’04, and Adam Lilla in ’01). His 13-reception ties second for most in Winona State football program history while also earning the fifth-most yards in a Warrior uniform in a single game.

Winona State opened up the scoring with a little over eight minutes left in the first quarter. Nelson connected with Mikes for the first of his four touchdowns on a 50-yard pass, giving the Warriors a 7-0 lead.

On the next drive for Winona State, sixth-year running back Theo Burkett, on one of his first rushing attempts since Oct. 15, 2011 after a couple of season-ending injuries, took the ball for 75 yards for the touchdown to give the Warriors a 13-3 advantage.

“On the touchdown run, I saw both my lead blockers pin their guys inside, so I bounced it and from there all that was going through my head was get in the end zone, don’t get caught,” Burkett said. “I did, however, get caught by my own teammate Josh Mikes, and we always joke about him running me down, so we got a good laugh out of that. It was fun and a great way to welcome myself back to college football.”

Later in the first quarter, Nelson found Mikes for their second connection of the day, this time a 13-yard strike. This touchdown increased the Warrior lead 19-6.

Winona State scored again halfway through the second quarter, with Nelson finding Alan May for a 62-yard connection. A successful two-point conversion by Burkett gave the Warriors a 27-6 lead.

With 22 seconds remaining, Nelson and Mikes connected for the third time in the first half, this one a pitch-and-catch to increase their lead 33-6 heading into the break.

Northern State’s quarterback Jared Jacobson got the Wolves on the scoreboard in the second half with a six-yard quarterback sneak.

The Warriors answered Northern State’s score with a 12-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Mikes’ fourth score of the day.

The score would remain until late in the fourth quarter when Anthony Resnick tacked on one more touchdown to the Warriors’ side of the scoreboard with a two-yard rush to put the finishing touches on the 47-13 victory.

Defensively, the Warriors limited the Wolves to 98 yards of total offense and six points in the first half.

“Our main focus was to fit up their run game well, and with the exception of one run over 30 yards, I would say we did exceptionally well in that aspect,” senior linebacker Ryan Gerts said. “We also did a good job pressuring the quarterback to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and not allowing him to step into his throws.”

Gerts continued, “We were able to bring in a lot of younger guys with no drop off in performance as a defense, so I was really proud of those younger guys for stepping up.”

Ian Murray led the Warriors with nine tackles, while Mitch Lunder and Kyle English, who also played his first game since 2011, each netted a sack. Redshirt freshman Davonte Wilcox-Ransom posted five tackles and blocked a kick in his Warrior debut.

Senior linebacker Morgan Weaver said, “Defensively we were assignment-sound, and when we made mistakes we covered it up with our pursuit to the ball and physicality throughout the game.”

Winona State (1-0) will play their first home game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13 at Verizon Wireless Stadium in Winona against NSIC challengers, University of Mary.