DULUTH, Minn. (SMSU) – The Southwest Minnesota State football program opened the Scott Underwood era with a hard-fought 31-21 setback to Minnesota Duluth in the season opener for both teams on Thursday night at Malosky Stadium. 

UMD, which won nine games and qualified for the NCAA playoffs a season ago, snapped a 21-21 game with a 43-yard touchdown pass with 12 minutes and 35 seconds left in the four quarter. The Bulldogs, which werereceiving votes in the preseason Top 25, sealed the victory with a field goal with just under four minutes remaining in the game. 

SMSU, which dropped its fifth straight season-opener, was led by Jesse Sherwood, who rushed for a game-high 138 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third career 100-yard rushing game.  

Mustang redshirt freshman quarterback Justus McComb, playing in his first career game, completed 9 of 17 passes for 135 yards and also rushed for one touchdown. Peter Osman caught four passes for 70 yards for the Mustangs.  

Onte Burns paced the way for the Mustang defense with a game-high 12 tackles.  

UMD opened the game’s scoring on its first drive of the game as Byron Bynum scored on a 6-yard run to cap a 10-play, 57-yard drive midway through the first quarter. 

SMSU answered in a big way on its second drive of the game to tie the game. Early in the drive, McComb converted a big third-down play with a 17-yard completion to Osman for the Mustangs’ first first-down of the season. Two plays later, Sherwood broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run to make the score 7-7 following a PAT by Carter Dicker with five minutes left in the first quarter. 

UMD would go back in front with 9:27 left in the second quarter as Logan Graetz completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Kurtis Weigand to close a seven-play, 70-yard drive. 

The game remained 14-7 midway through the second quarter with SMSU putting together a solid drive moving the ball to the UMD 40-yard line behind three first downs. Disaster however struck for the Mustangs as McComb was hit and fumbled with UMD recovering near midfield for the game’s first turnover. Moments later, Graetz connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Armani Carmickle to extend the lead to 21-7 into the halftime break. 

The SMSU defense was outstanding to open the second half forcing a pair of three-and-outs to set-up the Mustang offense. Starting at the UMD 42-yard line with its second drive of the half, McComb found Osman open for a 32-yard gain. One play later, McComb reached the end zone for a 10-yard run to trim the deficit to 21-14. 

UMD would miss a field goal to come up empty on its next drive to keep the lead at one score. SMSU would be forced to punt on its next drive, but the special teams came through in a big way to help tie the score. UMD’s Wade Sulllivan muffed the punt return, and the loose ball was recovered by SMSU’s Ervasti Gideon at the UMD 18-yard line. The Mustangs wasted no time in tying the game as Sherwood broke off a 17-yard run and plowed across one-play later to tie the game at 21 to end the third quarter. 

On the ensuing drive, UMD would convert one third-down conversion and later faced third-and-14 from the SMSU 43-yard line. The Bulldogs would then come up with the biggest play of the game as Graetz found Noah Skifton for a 43-yard touchdown to go back in front at 28-21.

SMSU will return to action for its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 10, taking on Concordia-St. Paul for the annual Ag Bowl, presented by Ralco. Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m. at The Schwan Regional Event Center.