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By Jon Nowacki / Forum Communications Co., Published December 19 2010

College football: Nadeau FG helps Minn.-Duluth win Division II title

FLORENCE, Ala. – Minnesota Duluth kicker David Nadeau knew it wasn’t a perfect kick, so he watched the ball for a moment before turning and running in celebration.

UMD coach Bob Nielson wasn’t quite so confident, so he waited until the officials raised their arms, indicating Nadeau’s boot was good and the Bulldogs were the NCAA Division II football champions for the second time in three seasons.

Nadeau’s 32-yard field goal as time expired lifted UMD to a 20-17 victory over Delta State before 4,027 spectators at Braly Municipal Stadium, capping an improbable postseason run where the Bulldogs were behind in all four playoff games. It was only the second time in the 38-year history of the Div. II championship that the game ended on a kick.

“For a minute there, I think I was just a little bit stunned,” Nielson said. “That is a pretty special way to win. We always do a ‘kick for the game’ at the end of every practice. This time, it just so happened to be for the national championship.”

The top-ranked Bulldogs (15-0) got all they could handle from the unranked Statesmen (11-4), with five lead changes in an entertaining contest, the 10th straight Div. II title game decided by seven points or less. UMD had a series of mishaps and several calls went against them, but they prevailed with defense, a no-nonsense running game and a turnover margin of 4-1.

“If you look at the way that game went, all I can tell you is that I’m really proud of this group of guys,” Nielson said. “Not a lot went our way in that game, but they just kept playing and believing and somehow, when you do that, good things happen.”

Delta State was the first unranked team to advance to the final, but the Statesmen clearly belonged. Delta’s defense, in particular, was surprising, keeping quarterback Chase Vogler corralled and making senior running backs Brian Hanson of Proctor and Brad Foss earn their yards.

Vogler passed for 118 yards and a touchdown and added 21 carries for 83 yards. Hanson had 16 carries for 98 yards and three receptions for 54 yards, while Foss had 14 carries for 62 yards and a 12-yard touchdown run that put the Bulldogs ahead 17-14 with 8:20 to play.

“I know everyone in the media felt we were the underdog, but we felt we were going to beat them, and beat them pretty good,” Delta State coach Ron Roberts said. “The one thing I said was that we’ve got to score when we get our opportunities, and make sure we do not let them hang around. They were 14-0 coming in. They know how to win. Don’t make it close. But instead, we missed opportunities, we let them hang around and they found a way to win. Hats off to them. Great job on their part.”

Early in the game Delta State drove the ball to UMD 12 before fumbling. It was a sign of things to come. The Statesmen would drive to within 6 yards of the UMD end zone on three occasions but came away with only three points after turning the ball over on downs twice and kicking a field goal on the third occasion, tying the game at 17 with 2:22 to play.

The game-tying field goal came after the Bulldogs stopped Delta State quarterback Micah Davis on fourth and goal at the 1, but a false start allowed the Statesmen to kick the ball instead. Then Delta State’s field-goal attempt was blocked, but a delay of game call gave the Statesmen another chance. The second attempt sailed through the uprights.

Delta quickly got the ball back with 1:10 to play, but Davis threw behind his intended target and safety Cody Eich snared the interception and returned it 20 yards to the UMD 48. On second down, Hanson rumbled 25 yards on a screen pass up the middle to set up Nadeau’s heroics.

“When it came off my foot, I knew it was going to be close,” Nadeau said. “It wasn’t the best kick I ever hit in my life, by any means, but I saw it going up and I knew it was going in. So I just turned around and ran.”

“He was obviously more confident than I was,” Nielson said with a laugh.

Nowacki writes for the Duluth News Tribune