MANKATO - Through the first four games of the season, Shane Zylstra didn’t think Minnesota State Mankato’s offense had been performing up to its capabilities. So the Mavericks receiver and his teammates adopted a slogan for Saturday’s homecoming game against Minnesota Duluth.
“All gas, no brakes,’’ Zylstra said. “We hadn’t played our best, and we know it. We just tried to play with a little chip on our shoulder and start fast.’’
Boosted by their twin engines — Zylstra and running back Nate Gunn — the No. 3 Mavericks put the pedal to the metal immediately, racing to a 52-7 rout of 12th-ranked UMD at Blakeslee Field. Both of the senior stars set records as the Mavericks (5-0, 5-0 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) beat the Bulldogs for the fifth consecutive time, running their NSIC win streak to 29 games.
Zylstra caught eight passes for three touchdowns and a career-high 220 yards.
His first score came on an 80-yard heave by quarterback Ryan Schlichte on the first play from scrimmage, putting the Mavericks on the path to a 35-0 halftime lead.
Gunn’s 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter was his 41st career rushing touchdown, setting an MSU record.
He finished with 146 yards on 20 carries, giving him 3,991 for his career to break the program mark for career rushing yards.
The Mavericks defense did its part, too. UMD quarterback John Larson, who had thrown for an average of 217 yards per game this season, was held to 45 passing yards.
Larson was sacked twice and intercepted once by an MSU defense that preserved the shutout until Armani Carmickle’s 8-yard touchdown reception with 10 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game.
The 52 points was the most scored by either team in the rivalry between the NSIC heavyweights. It also was MSU’s largest-ever margin of victory against UMD (4-1, 4-1).
“It was a phenomenal start by the offense, and tremendous follow-up by the defense,’’ Mavericks coach Todd Hoffner said. “It was a very solid game from all three phases.
“[Zylstra and Gunn] are probably a couple of the best players to ever play at Minnesota State on offense. I’m a really good football coach when I have the best players. It’s a pretty simple equation.’’
The loss ended a 24-game conference win streak for UMD, which had not been defeated by an NSIC foe since falling to the Mavericks on Sept. 16, 2017. The tone was set from the first play, when a UMD defender stumbled and left Zylstra wide open for the game’s first score.
The Bulldogs’ defense had been surrendering 240.5 yards per game, which ranked No. 11 nationally. But it could not contain the Mavericks on the ground or in the air. The 6-5 Zylstra presented a difficult matchup, and Gunn is a powerful, slippery runner who bulled his way to more than 7 yards per carry.
MSU scored on its first four possessions and rolled to 573 yards of total offense.
The game was delayed several minutes in the third quarter after MSU tight end Blake Ver Mulm was injured on a hard hit by Bulldogs linebacker Joe Kordus.
Ver Mulm, who scored on a 12-yard catch in the first half, was taken off on a stretcher, and Hoffner did not have an update on his condition. Kordus was penalized for targeting and ejected from the game.
Hoffner said the Mavericks’ offense had been “taking a little heat’’ earlier in the season, and he praised offensive coordinator Joe Beschorner for mixing the pass and run to perfection.
Zylstra said he wasn’t surprised at the production.
“I knew we had it in us,’’ he said. “It was nice to open it up.’’