Mavericks celebrate win, but need to get better

·2 min read

Sep. 3—MANKATO — On Thursday, the Minnesota State football team blew a 17-point halftime lead, committed three turnovers, gave up 367 yards passing ... and won.

"That win was worth its weight in gold," Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. "Getting the W, having some positive vibes, against a nationally ranked team ... it was a really good win."

After falling behind with 8:57 to play, the Mavericks scored on a 17-yard pass from backup quarterback Mitch Randall to senior receiver Jalen Sample with 1:38 to play in a 37-34 victory over 22nd-rated Bemidji State on Thursday night.

The play followed a 22-yard pass from Randall to Sample on fourth-and-18, and on the winning catch, Sample stole the ball from the defensive back, who was the first to get his hands on it in the corner of the end zone.

"You can never predict what's going to happen in a college football game," Hoffner said.

Randall was in the game because starting quarterback Hayden Ekern appeared to injure his shoulder while being tackled late in the second quarter. Starting running back Kaleb Sleezer, who missed the final three games of last season, was on crutches the second half with an apparent leg injury.

Hoffner said he couldn't update either player's status on Friday, but "we're hoping for the best."

The Mavericks built a 30-13 halftime lead with big plays on defense. Senior linebacker Alijah McGhee had a 70-yard fumble recovery and 55-yard interception return, both for touchdowns.

In the second half, the Mavericks stalled offensively, and Bemidji State started to rally. The Mavericks missed two field goals, and a long punt return was fumbled inside the Bemidji State 5.

But after giving up the lead, the Mavericks went 85 yards on nine plays to score the winning touchdown. On the next play, defensive back Nic Vinson made a clinching interception to secure the victory.

"We were fortunate to win," Hoffner said. "We did a lot of really good things in the first half. The second half was an abomination, in terms of offensive execution, and we gave up a lot of big plays. We definitely have a lot of work to do."

The Mavericks (1-0) open the home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 10, against Minnesota Duluth, which defeated Southwest Minnesota State 31-21 at Duluth on Thursday.

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.