North Dakota State College of Science found themselves in their first overtime game of the season in their Saturday, Oct. 5 road battle with Northland Community & Technical College. The Wildcats avenged their only two losses last season by pulling out a 27-21 victory in the second OT.
“We knew we had it in us,” NDSCS coach Eric Issendorf said. “We ended up finishing the game and the kids were really excited. That was a big hurdle for us being able to beat a two-time conference champion and trying to get over the hump a little bit.”
Northland outscored the visitors 21-7 in the second half and had all the momentum heading into the first overtime. Science started with the ball and were facing a fourth and long when Desean Phillips snuck out of the backfield for a pass. The freshman running back had enough to move the chains, but cut across the field to try to make it a bigger gain. He was stopped short of the sticks and the Pioneer offense took the field for a chance to win the game.
The Wildcat defense, who had struggled containing big plays throughout the second half, came through and forced a 34-yard field goal. Northland’s kicker, Rashidi Kikopa, had proven he had more than enough leg to win the game with his booming extra-point kicks throughout the night, but the ball sailed wide left.
The Pioneer offense stayed on the field for the next OT and after a wide-open pass was dropped in the endzone by one of the wide receivers, Northland faced a fourth and 15. Science pressured the quarterback into a tough throw and Nate Clark got under it for the second Wildcat interception of the night. It was the third forced turnover of the night.
“The second overtime I thought our defense stepped up really well to force a turnover,” Issendorf said. “Most of the time whoever wins the turnover battle is victorious and I’m glad we were on that side of it.”
Phillips made up for the first overtime by coming up with possibly his biggest run in an NDSCS uniform. Facing a third and 10, Phillips took the handoff and burst through the defense for 17 yards. His next carry went five yards and the final play of the game saw Phillips go into the endzone untouched from two yards out.
“We were able to do what we do and that’s run the football,” Issendorf said.
Judging by the opening half of the game, not many people in the stadium were expecting the battle to turn into a tight slugfest. The Cats scored on their first two drives of the game with Daveon Williams playing a massive role on both of the possessions. The freshman tight end pulled down a seven-yard jump ball for the first touchdown of the day and made a diving catch to move the chains on third and long, setting up an Austin Lawson receiving score.
“Daveon was battling a chest cold the whole week. He was struggling to get to practice and we sent him home on Wednesday and Thursday,” Issendorf said. “He came on Friday and then he came up big time for us. We know he’s a big-time player and he made some big-time plays. It was good to get him the ball, move the chains and put some points on the board.”
It’s not very often the first three Wildcat scores are through the air. McMillan’s third TD strike was from 13 yards out to Jonathan Griffin in the right corner of the endzone. The clutch catch made it a 21-7 game in the third quarter and came just one play after Griffin dropped a pass.
“Jonathan is just one of those guys in practice that works extremely hard. He doesn’t really dwell on the negative stuff. He’s just positive and works hard,” Issendorf said. “He’s made some big plays for us throughout the year and he hadn’t been able to put one in the endzone so it was nice to be able to reward him and to be able to get him a touchdown.”
Along with the trio of TD passes, McMillan was burning the defense with his legs. The Pioneers were keying on Phillips, allowing McMillan to sneak out of the backfield for multiple big gains. He ended the day with a team-high 98 yards.
“That’s what we’ve got to do when they load the box. We’ve got to make them honor the backside. It opened up some big plays for us, got us moving down the field and kept drives alive,” Issendorf said. “(McMillan’s) coming into his own. He’s highly competitive, wants to win for our team and you just love how competitive he is. Him being able to make the right reads shows that progression.”
The tight conference battle almost didn’t happen with a possibility of moving the game to Sunday, Oct. 6 due to Northland’s poor field conditions. The teams decided to move the game to East Grand Forks High School to play on their artificial turf field at 6 p.m. instead of the scheduled 1:30 kickoff.
“We really wanted to try to get it in so we had a rest day for Sunday and stay on schedule with our game prep through this week,” Issendorf said. “It threw us off a little bit with everything, but at the same point we got it in and we got a victory. I told them we’d play wherever.”
Science (5-1) heads back home for a 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 game against Minnesota West Community & Technical College. Along with it being NDSCS’ annual homecoming game, the stakes are even higher with the winner clinching first place in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference West Division and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“It’s a big game for us. We talk a lot about being really focused and having great practices. It’s homecoming for us, too, so there’s a lot of distractions,” Issendorf said. “There’s some adversity, but our kids have done a great job of keeping the noise to a minimum and trying to be focused in and out of practice everyday.”
NDSCS Stat Leaders
Trashawn McMillan- 8-19 91 yds, 3 TDs, INT
McMillan- 12 carries, 98 yds
Desean Phillips- 18 carries, 41 yds, TD
Kordell Ellis- 6 carries, 24 yds
KeyShawn Goins- 1 catch, 26 yds
Daveon Williams- 2 catches, 19 yds, TD
Austin Lawson- 1 catch, 18 yds, TD
Jonathan Griffin- 2 catches, 11 yds, TD
Isaiah Henderson- 5 solos, 3 assists, INT
Tony Madison- 8 solos
Nate Clark- INT
Spencer Skeesick- FR
Skeesick- 3-3 XPs
Jon Halaska- 4 punts, 117 yds, 2 inside 20