MINNEAPOLIS – Despite a handful of strong offensive performances, Indiana State couldn’t keep up with a strong Minnesota Golden Gopher squad, falling 58-28 at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Sycamores (1-1) put up 28 points (21 coming in the second half off the play of Isaac Harker and Robert Tonyan Jr.), but Minnesota (2-0) racked up 593 yards of total offense and strung together a 34-0 run in the process to put Indiana State away.
“We need to play better,” said ISU head coach Mike Sanford. “The one thing when I look at our team is that I think we had a little bit of a false sense of security after last week’s win, and there are a bunch of things we need to learn on and improve on as a result of today’s game.”
Early on, though, it seemed the time was right for a Sycamore upset. Minnesota struggled with drops on its first drive of the game, but was able to eventually score on a 10-play, 60-yard drive. The Sycamores responded in kind with a very strong 11-play, 85-yard drive that featured a surreal 58-yard reception by Clayton Smith on a tipped ball by Bob Pugh and a beautiful seven-yard lob to the back corner of the endzone from Harker to Tonyan – the first of three TD connections between them on Saturday.
And then all that momentum drained away quickly. Minnesota scored rapidly after what appeared to be a botched onside kick (in his postgame press conference Coach Sanford admitted there was a communication error), and rode that momentum swing to a 34-0 run that the Sycamores couldn’t recover from.
What stood out for the Sycamores on Saturday, though, were a handful of stellar offensive performances against a Big Ten defense. Sophomore quarterback Isaac Harker – in just his second-career start – was superb yet again, throwing 20-of-36 for 237 yards three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Harker even caught a TD pass from Bob Pugh on a reverse WR pass from Bob Pugh to break the 34-0 run.
“I have a lot more respect for the receivers now, because when you’re that wide-open it’s like ‘I gotta catch it!’ It’s a lot different than just throwing the ball around. When you’re that wide-open you think about the catch more.”
Senior WR Robert Tonyan Jr. once again proved why he is one of the best in the MVFC with an eight catch, 90-yard performance that included three impressive touchdown receptions – making him the first Sycamore to ever catch three touchdowns in two separate games after his three-score performance at No. 3 Illinois State in 2015.
Tonyan also isn’t far off from the all-time career touchdown record of 15 set by Steve Schmid in 1968, as he currently sits at 13 career scores.
And speaking of Pugh, the JUCO transfer was the next leading receiver with three catches for 59 yards. He also recorded the passing touchdown to Harker and had 78 yards on two long kick returns.
Up next for the Sycamores is a road trip to Southeast Missouri on Sept. 17. The last time these two teams met in 2015 in Terre Haute there were plenty of last-minute theatrics, with the Sycamores coming out on top in a wild 29-28 victory that ended with a failed two-point conversion by the Redhawks.
“We’ve got to come back from this, we can’t let this game beat us twice,” Sanford said. “We’ve got to put this one behind us and move forward.”