University of Minnesota-Duluth Wins Its First-Ever Division II Championship
When UMD went to Allendale, Michigan, three weeks ago and handed Grand Valley State their first home loss since 2004, it became much more than just a "playoff run." The national championship dream was real.
Saturday, the dream was realized.
Minnesota-Duluth won their first Division II championship in any sport, upsetting Northwest Missouri State 21-14. The win caps a 15-0 season for the Bulldogs, who were making their first appearance in the title game. It's UMD's first national title in 76 years of football.
Senior quarterback Ted Schlafke threw a touchdown pass to Tony Doherty late in the second quarter to open the scoring, and UMD's defense forced four Bearcat turnovers. Two of those turnovers were interceptions thrown by senior quarterback Joel Osborn, who had six picks all season entering the game Saturday.
Schlafke led two more scoring drives in the second half, capping the first with a touchdown pass to sophomore running back Issac Odim. Early in the fourth quarter, Odim capped the second scoring drive of the half with a short touchdown run. That gave UMD a 21-0 lead, and after a Northwest Missouri punt, the Bulldogs looked to be in the clear.
However, the Bearcats weren't dead. Aldwin Foster-Rettig picked off a Schlafke pass near midfield and took it untouched into the end zone to get his team on the board. The Bulldogs were able to bleed some time off the clock, but eventually had to punt the ball back to Northwest with around five minutes to play. The Bulldog defense bent and bent on the next drive, but didn't break until the clock was down near 90 seconds. That Osborn touchdown pass made the score 21-14.
There was some controversy on the ensuing onside kick. There was a scramble for the ball, and the official closest to the play almost immediately awarded the ball to UMD. The Bearcats actually came out of the scrum with the ball, but the officials wouldn't change their call. The television replay appeared to show UMD wide receiver Luke Schalekamp recovering the ball while on the ground.
Obviously, as someone who called one UMD game on the radio this year and has followed the program for many years, this is a special moment for the "fan" in me. But UMD is a great story. While the NCAA allows Division II football programs to have 36 scholarships, UMD is allowed just 24 as a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. It's the first time in quite a while that a program that wasn't fully-funded won the national title in football.
Not only that, but UMD was 4-6 a year ago, an also-ran in the now-defunct North Central Conference. That conference was forced to disband after two of its seven members, North Dakota and South Dakota, left to go to Division I.
For Northwest Missouri State, it's a heartbreak all too familiar. The Bearcats have now lost in the national title game four straight years. This was the first time in those four tries that they failed to hold a lead at any point in the game.