Written by: John Maiers
Minnesota State University, Mankato’s football team began its 2019 season as it ended – on the road – with one big difference.
On September 7, in Marshall, Minnesota, MSU thumped Southwest Minnesota State, 38-23 igniting a 14-game winning streak. Two and a half months later, on December 21 in McKinney, Texas, MSU’s dream of a national championship was extinguished by West Florida. The Argonauts outlasted the Mavericks 48-40 in the NCAA DII championship game.
But the Mavericks didn’t go quietly into the winter solstice, and their banner season was an exhibition in week-by-week, 1-0 excellence, including three playoff wins over teams that finished their seasons ranked in the top 12. After their victory over the Mustangs to kick start their campaign the Mavericks beat their next ten NSIC opponents to complete a third consecutive undefeated regular season and set up another deep run into the NCAA DII playoffs. For head coach Todd Hoffner and his team, the string of wins included, after a first-round bye, three dominating wins in the playoffs, two at home: 35-7 over CSU-Pueblo and 42-21 over Texas A&M Commerce; then in the semifinals, a resounding 58-15 victory over Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania that propelled the Mavericks into their second championship game in five years.
With a 14-0 record in tow, the Mavericks flew down to McKinney to battle West Florida Argonauts for the DII crown. Hundreds of Mavericks fans made their way to Texas as well.
Trailing 38-21 at halftime and 45-21 midway through the third quarter, the Mavericks wouldn’t quit. Kaleb Sleezer returned a botched punt 15 yards for a touchdown; Jalen Sample snatched the two-point conversion and, following a 24-yard field goal from Luke Williams, two standout seniors from Minnesota State connected to ratchet up the intensity and make the final outcome uncertain.
Mankato West graduate, Ryan Schlichte zipped a 7-yard touchdown pass to Spicer, Minnesota product Shane Zylstra capping a 13-play, 90-yard scoring drive. The successful two-point conversion pushed the Mavericks within a touchdown and another two-point conversion at 48-40.
MSU forced an Argonauts punt and took over on their own 20-yard line with 2:21 to work their way back to even the score – and force overtime. A desperate drive followed, featuring five consecutive completions from Schlichte to another standout senior, Justin Arnold. The drive stalled within the shadow of the goalposts at the West Florida18-yard line. A final fourth-down pass intended for Zylstra fell incomplete and the Mavericks season came to a dramatic end as the Argonauts hung on for the championship.
Several Mavericks received post-season All-America honors for their stellar play and outstanding accomplishments:
Alex Goettl (senior from North Mankato) – CoSIDA Second Team Nate Gunn – AFCA First Team; AP First Team; D2CCA First Team; D2Football.com Second Team
Evan Heim – AP First Team; D2CCA First Team; D2Football.com First Team Shane Zylstra – AFCA Second Team; CoSIDA First Team; AP First Team; D2CCA Second Team; D2Football.com Second Team
The final D2Football.com national poll ranked West Florida number one followed by Minnesota State at two.