Nebraska Wesleyan scored 16 unanswered points in the third quarter to rally from a first half deficit then the Prairie Wolves defense made a last minute red zone stop to seal a 25-20 victory for NWU over Saint Mary (Kan.) in the 2012 football season opener on Saturday (Sept. 1) at Abel Stadium in Lincoln.
NWU extends their streak to nine straight home non-conference victories and 11 straight regular season non-conference victories.
The Spires showed on the first drive that they came to play as USM marched 78 yards on 12 plays while eating up 7:17 on the clock and capped the drive with a TD pass from Mike Keese to Jerrell Young. The 7-0 lead stood at the end of the first quarter.
On the second play of the second quarter, NWU quarterback Nate Hauptman scored on a 1-yard option keeper to tie the game at 7-7. The ensuing drive resulted in another touchdown for the Spires as they drove 80 yards in 12 plays. Marcus Mata scored on a 4-yard TD run from the wildcat formation to put the Spires ahead 14-7.
USM looked to add on a field goal right before halftime but Jordan Delbaugh made the first of two blocks on the day to end the scoring threat and make the score 14-7 at halftime.
An inspired NWU offense came out of the halftime locker room and emphatically drove 58 yards in six plays. Hauptman threw his first touchdown pass of the season as he found true freshman Ryan Larsen streaking down the middle for a 30-yard touchdown. The PAT attempt was blocked so NWU trailed 14-13.
Saint Mary rolled the dice on their next possession and went for it on 4th down from their own 44-yard line and threw an incomplete pass. NWU took advantage of the good field position and took their first lead of the game on a 31-yard field goal by Aaron Lorraine.
After a 16-yard punt return by Cody Eiler to put NWU in Spires territory, the Prairie Wolves scored on their third straight possession. This time, running back Dustin Bryant plowed straight ahead for a 7-yard TD to give NWU a 23-14 lead.
USM quarterback Mike Keese, who was second in the NAIA in passing in 2011, drove the Spires 92 yards to start the fourth quarter and found a streaking Ronnie Cooper down the sideline for 54-yard touchdown. On the PAT attempt, 5’4 Jordan Delbaugh came around the edge to block the attempt then picked up the ball and ran it back for a defensive PAT to put NWU ahead 25-20.
Trying to seal the victory the Prairie Wolves mounted a 18-play 40 yard drive that took 10:18 off the clock. However a 37-yard field goal attempt came up short giving the Spires one last chance.
With no timeouts remaining the Spires had 80 yards to go for a touchdown with 2:25 remaining. Keese completed three straight passes and just like that USM was down to the NWU 19 yard line. Two incompletions and a false start penalty brought up 3rd & 15. An 11-yard completion to the 13-yard line forced the final play on 4th down. Kesse threw in the corner for his favorite target Jerrell Young, but safety Michael Huettner knocked it away to seal the win.
Saint Mary nearly doubled NWU in total offense with 458 yards compared to only 242 for the Prairie Wolves who were held to 48 yards in the first half. Keese finished 30-54 for 377 yards with two touchdowns. Young caught 10 passes for 113 yards and a TD.
For NWU, Hauptman was 13-28 for 127 yards with a touchdown and also ran for a score. Dustin Bryant led NWU with 51 rushing yards on 12 carries with a TD and also caught four passes for 36 yards.
Cody Eiler had a big day in the return game with three punt returns for 71 yards (23.7 ypr) and four kick returns for 124 yards (31 ypr). Brett Kaczor led the NWU defense with 10 total tackles.
NWU opens GPAC play next Saturday (Sept. 8) with a trip to Fremont, Neb., to face Midland University in their first game of the year.