David Nadeau sheepishly admitted that it wasn’t the best field goal he’d ever kicked. The ball had a little wiggle to it, a little wobble in the air.
It was good enough to give Minnesota-Duluth its second national championship.
Nadeau’s 32-yard kick as time expired Saturday gave the Bulldogs a 20-17 victory over Delta State in the Division II national title game, wrapping up the school’s second perfect season in the past three years with another trophy on a December afternoon.
”When it came off my foot I knew it was going to be close,” Nadeau said. ”It wasn’t the best kick that I ever hit in my life by any means. I saw it going up and I knew it was going in. When I saw it in the air, I just turned around and ran.”
Cody Eich’s 20-yard interception return gave the Bulldogs (15-0) the ball at midfield with 52 seconds left in the game, and Chase Vogler’s 25-yard pass to Brian Hanson got Minnesota-Duluth within range for the second game-winning field goal in championship history.
Ted Clem’s 50-yard field goal gave Troy State an 18-17 win over North Dakota State in 1984.
”What a great game,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Bob Nielson said. ”It was one of those games where both teams certainly had an opportunity to win. It could have gone either way and that’s a credit to (Delta State) and their performance.”
Delta State (11-4) had tied the game on Matt Snyder’s 22-yard field goal with 2:22 left, but four turnovers and squandered opportunities in the red zone proved costly.
It’s the second national title in school history for Minnesota-Duluth, which also went 15-0 in winning the 2008 championship. Grand Valley State (2006) and Northwest Missouri State (1998) have also posted 15-0 records en route to the national title.
Vogler accounted for 201 yards of total offense for the Bulldogs. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown, while running a game-high 21 times for 83 yards.
Hanson ran 16 times for 98 yards and caught three passes for 54 yards.
”I just look at the way that the game went and all I can tell you is that I’m really proud of this group of guys,” Nielson said. ”Not a lot went our way in that game and we just kept playing. We just kept playing and believing and somehow when you do that, good things happen.”
Delta State (11-4) lost three fumbles and threw one interception, which set up the winning score. The Statesman only scored 10 points on five trips inside the Bulldogs 20.
Meanwhile, Minnesota-Duluth turned it over once and scored 20 points on four red-zone trips.
”I am real proud of our guys and I thought they played extremely hard,” Delta State coach Ron Roberts said. ”We had some opportunities to win the game, but I am real proud of the way our guys played down to the wire.”
After Snyder’s 22-yard field goal tied the game, Delta State got the ball back with just over a minute left. Micah Davis threw an interception at the Minnesota-Duluth 30, setting up the fifth and final lead change in the 10th straight title game decided by seven points or less.
Davis finished 24 of 35 for 240 yards and two touchdowns for the Statesmen.
Minnesota-Duluth took the early in the first quarter on Snyder’s 32-yard field goal, and Delta State answered when Davis fired an 8-yard touchdown strike to Maurice Moore. But the Bulldogs regained the lead later in the quarter when Vogler hit Ben Helmer from 14 yards out.
Davis’ 28-yard pass to L.J. Castille gave the Statesmen a 14-10 halftime lead. Castille caught seven passes for 80 yards, and finished with four touchdowns in four playoff games.
Brad Foss’ 12-yard run with 8:20 left in the game gave Minnesota-Duluth a 17-14 lead, helping to set the stage for a dramatic final few minutes.