MANKATO – Minnesota State Mankato and Todd Hoffner are a game away from redemption. The bigger and stronger Mavericks punished Concord (W.Va.) 47-13 in Saturday afternoon’s NCAA Division II semifinal at Blakeslee Stadium.
As fans chanted “M-S-U … M-S-U” and the chill of cold water hit Hoffner’s neck in the final seconds of the blowout, the lingering turmoil that has surrounded the coach and the program for the past two years felt distant. The postgame looked a lot like a championship celebration as the players held up an NCAA banner and embraced family after claiming the program’s first berth in the national title game.
“If there is anything gratifying, it’s getting the ol’ Gatorade shower, if you will. There is nothing more appreciative that a coach can get from his players other than the old water bath, so that’s fun,” Hoffner said. And “Hugging my family, you know, a very emotional time for us throughout.
“As a program we’ve reached a level that hasn’t been done before.”
Hoffner and the Mavericks (14-0) will try to take it one more step against Colorado State-Pueblo, a 10-7 semifinal winner over West Georgia, on Saturday in Kansas City, Kan.
In the past two years Hoffner has been arrested on child pornography charges, cleared of the charges, fired from his coaching job, left Mankato for another coaching opportunity, was reinstated at Minnesota State in April, had this players walk out on him during the first practice but has since gained back the respect of his players, coaching staff and the community.
Even Concord coach Garin Justice said he has goals to build a program like Minnesota State’s after the one-sided semifinal that turned in the Mavericks’ favor early on.
Minnesota State had possession for 11:07 of the first quarter, and took a 15-0 lead on Ricky Lloyd touchdown passes of 21 yards to Jeff Burns and 20 yards to Kyle Riggott.
Lloyd threw two more TD passes and finished 14-for-18 for 177 yards, along with 36 yards rushing. Dorian Buford was his top target with seven receptions for 99 yards to surpass 1,000 yards on the season.
“This being my first year here, this is what I came here to do,” Lloyd said. “My aspiration when I came here was to be a leader and take the team as far as it can go, and we’re going as far as we can go and we have one more game to win.”
MSU’s Connor Thomas led all rushers with 123 yards and a touchdown. His 8-yard scoring run in the second half was the 33rd rushing TD of his career, a Mavericks record.
The Mavericks’ 14th victory also is a program record and a win next Saturday would complete the perfect season.
Concord’s high-powered offense was averaging 44.6 points per game and hadn’t scored fewer than 24 until Saturday. MSU’s nation’s-best defense limited the speed that the Mountain Lions (13-1) had relied on all season. Concord was only 2-for-9 on third-down conversions and 1-for-3 on fourth down.
The Mountain Lions’ lone fourth-down conversion led to their first points late in the second quarter. Ben Nester scored on a 6-yard run that cut the Mavericks’ lead to 22-7.
Minnesota State responded with its fourth touchdown of the first half, for a 30-7 advantage at the break.
The Mavericks defense forced three turnovers, getting interceptions from Rumeal Harris and Nathan Hancock. Harris also recovered a fumble.
“They had a lot of weapons and really explosive players,” Hancock said. “But every week Coach [Jake] Dickert [defensive coordinator] gets us ready, gets us a nice game plan and it’s just our job to execute. … When we execute, we play at a top level as good as anybody.”