MWB win marks 10th win of the season for Winona State
In its most dominant all-around performance of the season, Winona State rolled over Lindenwood 41-21 to win a second Mineral Water Bowl in three appearances. In what was one of the most prolific offensive performances in coach Tom Sawyer’s 17 seasons, Winona State rolled up 597 yards and scored five touchdowns to win its 10th game of the season.
The Warriors finished 10-2 to become the fourth Winona State team to win 10 games in a season. All of them have been under the guidance of Sawyer.
This game, however, had just as much to do with Ryan Williams and his two interceptions, Patrick Lazzara and his bone-crushing tackles and the overall physically dominating play of the offensive line as it did spectacular plays. And, of course, the most decorated back in Warriors’ history, Rayon Simmons, used his powerful, tree-trunk like legs to rush for 198 yards and a TD.
In a word, it was a “complete” performance.
“Our kids really came to play. We had great leadership in that senior group and upper class guys, but you know what? They just flat-out were ready to play a football game,” said Sawyer, whose team finishes the season on a four-game winning streak. “We had a good three weeks of practice, and it paid off today. It was awesome.”
Lindenwood (8-4), which didn’t endear itself to Winona State (10-2) with some comments during a Friday night banquet, struck first when Andrew Helmick the Lions’ star receiver with 57 catches and 12 TDs entering the game caught a tipped pass and raced 83 yards for a touchdown just 93 seconds into the game.
“That is part of adversity of the game. Whether it starts on the first play or it starts late in the game, you have to overcome it,” Sawyer said. “It rattled us a little bit, but nobody really thought anything of it. We didn’t worry about it.”
Winona State showed its quick-strike ability when John Teigland hit Josh Mikes on a 73-yard scoring play on the Warriors’ second play from scrimmage. Mikes swept past a fallen Justin Broome and grabbed the momentum right back. The Warriors then caught a break when Lindenwood’s Sam Sealer bobbled a potential TD in the end zone, and the Lions’ James Neal missed a 37-yard field goal on the next possession.
Winona State’s Jake Vercher didn’t miss, however, as his 30-yard field goal gave Winona State a 10-7 first-quarter lead. Lindenwood’s Helmick would get behind the Warriors’ secondary again in the second quarter and made it sting with a 58-yard TD reception to make it 14-10 Lions.
That, however, was the last big play for Lindenwood.
Winona State, with its big, physical offensive line led by center Richard Lilla and left tackle Roszell Gayden, started to flex its muscles against a smaller Lindenwood defensive line midway through the second quarter. It took a big defensive play by the game’s defensive MVP, Williams, however, to get it started.
Williams tipped a Ben Gomez pass, and Jared Mitchell was right there to intercept it at the Lindenwood 29. Five plays and 2 minutes, 21 seconds later, Simmons busted into the end zone for a 17-14 Winona State lead with 3:24 left in the first half.
“There are always a couple of plays every game where I just stand back and say, ‘Wow,’” Teigland said of Simmons. “His two runs on the goal line there, the first play we lined up and he smacked a D-lineman. He didn’t get in, but he got to the 1-yard line where it could have been a 5-yard loss. Two plays later he comes back and smacks another guy and gets in the end zone. The offensive line does a great job, but plays like that, it’s just Rayon.”
Winona State then appeared to catch Lindenwood off-guard with its two-minute offense. The Warriors took over at their own 42 with 2:23 left in the first half, then marched 58 yards in seven plays, capped by an 11-yard scoring burst by reserve running back Anthony Resnick to make it 24-14 with 27 seconds left in the first half.
“Offensively our guys up front just wore them down,” said Teigland, who was 23-for-31 for 303 yards with two TD passes and no interceptions. “We could really tell in that two-minute drill there just before halftime. They were scurrying around trying to get set and huffing and puffing. We just felt like we could keep grinding on them.”
That’s exactly what the bigger and stronger Warriors did.
Winona State opened the second half with an 80-yard drive (including one penalty) that Teigland capped with a 16-yard TD strike to Tyler Speer to make it 31-14. Speer finished a big day with seven catches for 77 yards, including a couple of TDs.
Lazzara intercepted Lindenwood’s Gomez on the next series, and 10 plays later Vercher booted a 27-yard field goal to make it 34-14. For all practical purposes, it was game over.
“They were everything we thought they were. That is probably the biggest, most physical team we played this year,” said Helmick, who finished with nine catches for 201 yards and two TDS. “And their secondary, they hit more than any secondary I have ever played against. The fly around the ball.”