After Chadron State’s Joel Schommer raced to the end zone on a 73-yard pass from quarterback Joe McLain, it might’ve looked as if the Eagles would cruise to a first round victory in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
In a game that featured six combined turnovers, several injuries and over 700 yards of total offense, both Chadron State and Wayne State were pushed to the limit. The Eagles pushed back a little harder, though, and eeked out a 23-17 victory to advance into the second round and a matchup with Minnesota-Duluth next Saturday.
The Eagles owned a 16-10 lead at halftime, in large part due to a strong ending in the second quarter. Chadron State’s Brett Gumb blocked a punt that the Wayne State punter recovered in the end zone for a safety and on the ensuing drive the Eagles went 71 yards, capped by a 15-yard pass from McLain to Isaac Stockton in the end zone.
In the first half, the CSC offensive unit had 233 total yards and the defense limited Wayne State to just 84 yards. However, the second half was a different story, as Wayne State took full advantage of its no-huddle offense by gaining 287 yards to CSC’s 119. But the Eagles’ defense stood tall when it mattered the most by creating three turnovers, two coming inside the 10-yard line.
The Wildcats had no problem going down the field on their first drive of the second half, gaining 51 yards in just seven plays. A 25-yard toss from Wayne State quarterback Silas Fluellen to Logan Masters set the Wildcats up on the CSC 11-yard line, but on the next play Chadron State Aaron Bauer picked off Fluellen’s pass at the 5-yard line and returned it back to the 26.
The Eagles then drove 74 yards in nine plays to reach paydirt and McLain found Tyler Watson near the corner of the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Wayne State marched the length of the field on its next drive and reached the 2-yard line, but the Eagles’ defense came up big again. Linebackers Zach Wheeler and Bauer combined to force the Wayne ball carrier to fumble and safety Nick Milani recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
The teams traded punts on each of their next two possessions before the turnover bug bit Wayne State again. CSC’s Ryan Wells recovered a fumble at the 32-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but the CSC offense sputtered and punted the ball back to the Wildcats, who proceeded to drive the ball down the field once again, this time reaching the end zone with less than eight minutes remaining. The Wildcats converted a fourth and six at the Eagles’ 40-yard line and on the next play Fluellen hit Masters for a 30-yard touchdown to make the score 23-17.
The teams traded punts on their next possessions before CSC drove 26 yards to the Wayne State 20. The Eagles’ only first down in the quarter came on a 21-yard scramble by alternate Garrett Treffer, who was playing because McLain suffered an apparent shoulder injury near the end of the third quarter. The Eagles’ attempted a field goal three plays later, but Reno Blomquist blocked the kick and Wayne State gained some much-needed life with three minutes and 22 seconds left.
Fluellen hooked up with Brian Chapman for a 20-yard gain on Wayne’s first play of the drive, but after a fumble and three straight incomplete passes, the Wildcats’ hopes were dashed.
The Eagles took a knee on their next three plays, but Wayne State still had a last gasp of breath. Kevin Berg booted a 41-yard punt to the Wayne 5-yard line and Frederic Bruno had fans of both teams out of their seats as he raced down the sideline for a 55-yard return before CSC’s Trevor Hyatt pushed him out of bounds to end the game.
“Chadron State did a great job and I thought they were extremely well-prepared for us,” Wayne State coach Dan McLaughlin said. “We couldn’t move the ball at all in the first half. I thought their defense did a great job, and offensively, they did just enough. We thought our defense was good enough to shut them down but they were able to move the football and that’s a credit to their coaching staff. They had a great plan and did a great job.”
McLain completed 20 of 31 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Brandon Harrington led the CSC receivers with eight catches for 72 yards. He is now the school record holder for most receptions in a season with 75.
Fluellen completed 17 of 40 passes for 236 yards and one TD. Masters led the Wildcat receivers with nine grabs for 118 yards.