ST. CLOUD - After St. Cloud State rattled the locker-room walls with its victory song Saturday, the Huskies ran back onto the field, eager to celebrate their biggest triumph of the season with a record crowd. As they mingled with some of the 5,158 fans at Husky Stadium, they couldn't help but take another look at the improbable numbers on the scoreboard: St. Cloud State 35, Minnesota Duluth 7.
In a game that could end up deciding the champion of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, the No. 11 Huskies dominated No. 6 UMD from start to finish, ending a seven-game losing streak against their in-state rival. As exciting as it was to defeat the defending NCAA Division II champions, quarterback Phillip Klaphake saw a greater achievement. The Huskies, he said, wanted to prove their program is ready to join the nation's elite. They got no argument from the Bulldogs, who lost a second regular-season game for the first time since 2007.
St. Cloud State's defense controlled UMD on the ground, holding the Bulldogs to 154 rushing yards, and harassed quarterback Chase Vogler all day. Vogler threw two interceptions and was sacked three times as the Bulldogs managed just 248 total yards. They came into the game with the ninth-best rushing offense in the country at 252 yards per game.
A Vogler interception on the game's initial possession set up the Huskies' first touchdown, as Klaphake scored on a 10-yard run with 4 minutes, 53 seconds left in the first quarter. The Huskies (8-1, 7-1 NSIC) held a 21-0 halftime lead and made it 35-0 before the Bulldogs (7-2, 6-2) got their only score with 7:20 left in the game.
"We know now we can compete at the national level,'' said Klaphake, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 123 yards and ran for 48 more. "When we got to the playoffs last year, we weren't really sure how good we were. Being able to get a win in any fashion against a team like this shows we can win at the national level.''
The Huskies' 2010 playoff run ended with a second-round overtime loss to UMD. This time, they played nearly flawless football in their 14th consecutive home victory.
UMD had a 4 1/2-minute edge in possession time, but the Huskies' punishing defense kept the Bulldogs in check. On the game's first drive, UMD advanced to the Huskies' 30 before the interception. It did not cross midfield again until the third quarter, finishing the first half with 109 total yards.
The Bulldogs, forced out of their comfort zone from the start, failed to finish on two scoring opportunities in the third quarter. With first-and-goal at the Huskies 6-yard line, Vogler was snared just short of the goal line on third down, and Zach Hulce was dropped for a one-yard loss to end the drive. When UMD got the ball back two minutes later on the Huskies 27, it lost 10 yards on four plays.
"St. Cloud played great on offense and defense, and we weren't very good,'' UMD coach Bob Nielson said. "We were obviously exposed in some areas we've got to try to shore up. We have no margin for error the rest of the way.''