Ridgewater holds off Northland

by Scott DCamp
The Northland Pioneers simply ran out of time in their first round playoff matchup Saturday at Ridgewater College in Willmar. The Pioneers, who had coughed up a late fourth quarter lead with a punt return touchdown to the Warriors a couple possessions earlier, had a chance to win the game on their final possession.  
Northland receiver Christian Vinson caught a Peyton Kendrick pass at the Ridgewater 25 and ran out of bounds with one second left on the clock. Kendrick’s throw on the next play fell incomplete in the endzone, allowing Ridgewater to advance to the MCAC semifinals with a 26-21 win. 
“It was a beautiful afternoon,” said Northland head coach Jim Cox. “Both teams played hard. It turned into a game of special teams.”
As noted by Cox, special teams proved to be the difference. Ridgewater scored both its first and last touchdowns on punt returns. Meanwhile, Northland running back Keontre Starks scored a special teams touchdown of his own on an 85-yard kickoff return to help Northland reclaim the lead for the final time in the third quarter. 
“It was a quality game – one you hate to lose,” Cox said. “We had our shots but we were unable to pull off the road upset.”
Ridgewater opened the scoring with a first quarter punt return touchdown. The Pioneers answered with a five-yard Keontre Starks touchdown run later in the quarter. 
Ridgewater took a 12-7 lead into the half with a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. 
The Pioneers regained the lead early in the third quarter with Stark’s second touchdown of the day. 
The teams alternated scores to finish the third quarter, with Ridgewater scoring on a pass from 14 yards out and the Pioneers answering with Starks’ third touchdown of the day on an 85-yard kickoff return. 
Stark’s third touchdown gave Northland a 21-18 lead that stood until Ridgewater reclaimed the lead late in the fourth quarter on its second punt return touchdown of the day. 
Looking back on the season, Cox said he is pleased with his team’s progress during the season. 
“We had an opportunity to play very close with the top three teams in the league,” Cox said. 
1 2 3 4 T
Northland 7 0 14 0 21
Ridgewater 6 6 6 8 26
Ridgewater – 85-yard punt return, kick failed.
Northland – Keontre Starks 5-yard run, Austin Warren kick. 
Ridgewater – 1-yard run, run failed.
Northland – Starks 1-yard run, run failed.
Ridgewater – 14-yard pass, pass failed. 
Northland – Starks 85-yard kickoff return, Dez Henderson run. 
Ridgewater – 75-yard punt return, run successful.  
Team Statistics
n Punts (number-average) – NCTC 10-41.3; 
n Rushing (attempts-yards) – NCTC 34-110; Ridgewater 30-12.
n Passing – NCTC 11-for-31, 89 yards, 1 interception; Ridgewater 18-for-34, 238 yards.
n Total yards – NCTC 199; Ridgewater 250.
n Rushing – (NCTC) Keontre Starks 12-55, 3 total touchdowns;  Deion Hogan 5-30; Kevin Evans 8-29; Dez Henderson 4-11.  
n Passing – (NCTC) Peyton Kendrick 11-31, 89 yards, interception.
n Receiving – (NCTC) Christian Vinson 4-36; Ishmail Mitchell 2-28; Pierre Elysee 2-23; Derrius Brown 1-2.