ST. CLOUD, Minn. – New Orleans Saints running back and former Wayne State all-American star Joique Bell visited the Warriors’ practice, last week. He probably couldn’t have foreseen the profound effect it would have on redshirt sophomore running back Toney Davis.
Davis, who entered Wayne State’s first playoff game Nov. 19 with 869 rushing yards, exploded for 326 yards on 38 carries and five touchdowns in WSU’s victory over St. Cloud State 48-38.
That’s 8 yards more than Bell’s single-game school rushing record set Sept. 16, 2006.
“I got five great lineman who also (blocked for) Joique,” Davis said. “Obviously they did it once, so obviously they could do it again to help me out. So, it’s my line, my quarterback , my fullback and everybody just blocking and doing their assignments. And we pulled off the win.”
While Bell moved on to the National Football League, this season’s WSU football team moves on to the second round to play Super Region Three No. 2 seed Nebraska-Kearney. But through the first 20 minutes against the Huskies, it didn’t look like the Warriors were going anywhere.
With the field already blanketed by driving snow and sub-freezing temperature, WSU quickly fell behind 7-0 when Stefan Terleckyj’s punt was blocked and recovered at Wayne State’s 3-yard line. The Huskies scored on the ensuing play by running back Dante Steward (35 yards, 10 carries for the game).
Davis answered with the first of his five touchdowns from 2 yards out, but WSU botched the extra-point attempt.
St. Cloud added two more touchdowns, one a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Phillip Klaphake to Renard Robinson on 4th-and-3 and another on a 2-yard Michael Walker (23 yards, 12 carries, 1 TD) dive set up by a fourth-down conversion. The Warriors trailed 21-6.
“Because our kids play better when we’re behind … and I don’t understand it but, anymore, I’m trying not to score first,” coach Paul Winters said half-joking.
In the Warriors’ eyes, they were lucky to lose the coin toss to begin the game. With visions of their last-second loss to Ashland, they gladly opted to take the wind advantage.
“We went into this first quarter with the idea, ‘Let’s give them the wind, you know, we’re going to be nervous anyway so we wouldn’t know what to do with the wind,’” Winters said. “‘And let’s get the wind and we’ll be settled down in the second quarter.’
“And we did that. In the second quarter, we were a better football.”
True enough, tailback Josh Renel (68 yards, 7 carries, 1 TD) quickly pulled Wayne State back into the game with a 55-yard rushing touchdown. And from then on, the field only slanted more in WSU’s favor.
“ We had some fortune probably with the weather because it allowed us to be who we probably need to be," Winters said, "a big physical football (team).”
The Warriors’ offensive line began plowing through St. Cloud. Holes opened with ease and Davis quickly bowled over the second and third levels of the defense. He handily brushed off arm tackles ripping long run after long run.
“I think, definitely, we just, might of come out a little nervous, you know, first time ever Division II playoffs, real hyped up …” said left tackle and GLIAC Offensive Lineman Of The Year Joe Long. “But I think once we got our mind set (that) we need to pound the football … we just flipped the switch and decided to pound the football.”
Davis, aptly known as “Thunder” in his backfield duo, gave the Warriors a 27-24 halftime lead with touchdown runs of 36 and 15 yards and 142 yards rushing.
“He doesn’t look as big as he is, he’s got big, thick, strong thighs,” Winters said. “And a game like this where you have the snow and everything, you can’t tackle him. … I’ve seen him just punish people where you think he’s not that big and he just punishes people. He runs hard, he’s physical, and he’s really hard to tackle in good conditions.”
The Halftime break was extended to 40 minutes as Husky Stadium staff futilely attempted to clear the field of snow. Sections that were cleared were soon covered again by the snow storm, which dumped a single-day record of 5.8 inches for Nov. 19, according to the St. Cloud Times.
“We were chomping at the bit to get back on that field,” Long said. “God, we wanted to get back out there.”
As did the defense, which failed to consistently get Klaphake (22-for-37 passing, 284 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) and the Husky offense off the field in the first half. Spreading the ball using short passes over the middle and on the flats to tight end Nick Angellotti (36 yards, 6 catches) and Robinson (66 yards, 4 catches, 2 TDs), Klaphake led the early charge.
But the Huskies failed to ignite its power running game, which averaged 235.8 yards heading into the playoffs. The Warriors limited them to 123 rushing yards, led by an impressive showing of the front seven.
Jordan Miller, Raleigh Ross and Ed Viverette successively led the team in tackles, combining for 25. Ross punctuated his group’s day with a 78-yard touchdown return off a tipped interception.
Winters and Ross agreed that the snow hampered SCSU’s passing game, but not nearly as bad as it hampered WSU quarterback Mickey Mohner. He finished the game 3-for-10 passing with 27 yards.
“He couldn’t hold onto the football he didn’t throw it very well,” Winters said. “There was some open guys we weren’t able to hit. It negatively affected him, but that thing that mickey gives you is intelligence … a lot of those runs was Mickey guiding our offense within the framework of our offense.”
St. Cloud failed to ever gain momentum. Whenever they scored Davis and the Warriors would answer.
With Wayne State up 34-31 late in the third, Renel, who averaged 28 yards per kickoff return (140 yards, 5 returns), brought the ball to the SCSU 47. The very next play, Davis busted through defenders for his fourth touchdown of the game.
Wayne State controlled the clock and the field position in the second half. At one point in the fourth, WSU owned the ball for more than 9 minutes. It didn’t result in any points, but it shortened the game.
The Warriors put the game away with 3:42 remaining when Davis burst from the line -- yet again -- and bounced off Husky defenders -- yet again -- and scored -- yet again times five.
“For our guys who didn’t think they had a second chance, they got their second chance and they took advantage of it,” Winters said.
For the team that thought it wouldn’t make the playoffs two weeks prior, the Warriors have at least one more date in the nation’s remaining field of 16 teams.