M State kick returner Semaj Mitchell returns a kickoff 58 yards Sunday in Fergus Falls, to help set up a 47-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Carsen McKnight over Central Lakes in the MCAC playoffs.

The M State football team won in such dramatic fashion over Central Lakes Sunday in the final seconds of their home MCAC playoff game, by a field goal from kicker Carsen McKnight, 27-24, it left Spartans head coach Cory Miller speechless without a comment after it was all over.

Luckily for M State fans assistant head coach Stan Bedwell was there to offer his analysis of the game.

“It was a hard-fought win. Ugly first half, ugly second half, ugly game, but at the end of the day guys made enough plays,” said Bedwell. “One to step up and a name that hasn’t been heard all year Semaj Mitchell, he’s the kid who returned the kickoff at the end to put us in position, he’s played very sparingly but I think he definitely needs some publicity because he gave us a chance to win the game.”

In the first quarter M State’s secondary put the Spartans on the board first when AJ Conteh intercepted a pass and returned it 54-yards for a touchdown with McKnight tacking on the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Then in the second quarter the Raiders tied the game with a 5-yard pass from QB Matt Torres to Vincente Torres followed by the extra point (7-7) but the Spartans would regain the lead on a 21-yard McKnight field goal to go into halftime, up 10-7.

After the break the Raiders leap-frogged back into the lead on a 35-yard touchdown run and point after bringing the score to 14-10, however, the Spartans wouldn’t be dismayed as they punched back with a 64-yard touchdown run by Rondarius Gregory followed by another McKnight point after, upping the tally in favor of M State 17-14. The final score in the third quarter would once again see the Raiders take the lead on a 7-yard run and PAT to head into the game’s final stanza, 21-17.

Early in the fourth quarter with the stakes at an all-time high M State quarterback Nate Hayden got comfortable in the pocket, delivering a huge 57-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Griffin with another McKnight extra-point kick to reestablish the lead 24-21.

After a defensive stand by the Spartans forced a 20-yard Raiders field goal to tie the game at 24-24, M State’s Mitchell returned the following kickoff 58 yards into Central Lakes territory with 14 seconds left in the game. With short time, Hayden completed a pass setting the stage for McKnight to connect on a 47-yard field goal that bounced in off the center post for the 27-24 victory.

“We always talk about playing the next play and not focusing on what happened before and despite all the mistakes we just stayed focused on the next play. I don’t think there was one play in particular that changed the game,” said coach Bedwell after the win.

Offensively M State had 260 yards of total offense including 192 passing and 68 rushing while Central Lakes racked up 366 yards total — 212 passing, 154 rushing.

Spartans QB Hayden was 14 for 27 and was responsible for all of M State’s 192 yards in the air.

“It was a great team win, we had to fight to the last second. I’m really proud of all the guys and I’m ready for another one,” said Hayden after Sunday’s big win. “We never gave up, we just kept fighting and we got a goal-line stand there for a little bit then they got the ball back to almost send it to OT but we got down the field for the game-winning field goal, that’s the play right there.”

The Spartans’ leading rusher was Gregory with 96 yards on 11 carries while the leading receiver was Griffin with five catches for 109 yards.

“Coach drew up the game plan and we just went out and executed, that’s all we did,” said Griffin. “Good win, let’s win next week, we’ve got a huge game.”

Defensively the Spartans were led by Cheo Trotter (3 solo tackles, 12 assisted) and Joey Demarco (5 solo tackles, 6 assisted, 1 interception).

M State will now head to Wahpeton on Sunday for the MCAC semifinals against the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats at 1:30 p.m., a team the Spartans lost to in the regular season, 34-28.

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