North Dakota State College of Science capped what has been an incredible regular season with arguably the biggest win of the Eric Issendorf era, shocking No. 16 and previously unbeaten Mesabi Range 18-15 on a last-second John Halaska field goal Saturday at Frank Vertin Field.
On paper, the game meant very little.
NDSCS had already clinched the MCAC Western Division with an unblemished division mark, as had Mesabi Range as the MCAC Eastern Division champs. There was no position in seeding or standings at stake on Saturday, only pride and bragging rights. But, in what could be a preview of the MCAC Championship Game, both teams wanted to establish their dominance and remain hot entering the postseason.
The Wildcats were able to impose their will early with freshman T.J. Owens hooking up on a 41-yard strike to North Dakota State transfer Cordell Pimienta. Pimienta finished with 68 yards on four receptions.
Mesabi Range’s first possession ended in an interception by Isiah Henderson.
Freshman Desean Phillips, who finished with a workman-like 129 yards on 27 carries, gave the Wildcats 15-0 lead following his 15-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion in the second quarter.
He’s currently the only play in the nation with 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns this season.
After holding the lead and momentum for the majority of the contest, a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns by Mesabi Range swung the game, tying things up at 15-all.
The Wildcats answered with an 11-play drive that chewed up more than three minutes of clock, which included a fourth-down conversion. That drive was capped by Halaska’s 25-yard field goal.
Range would attempt multiple laterals on the ensuing kickoff, but came up short of the end zone.
NDSCS forced four turnovers defensively, including sophomore Nate Seward recording his sixth interception of the season. That’s the second-highest total nationally.
Both NDSCS and Mesabi Range finish the regular season at 7-1 and both will begin playoff action next weekend at home, with the Cats hosting Bottineau and Central Lakes making the trip to Mt. Iron to play Mesabi Range.
The Wildcats are set for a 2p.m. kickoff.