DULUTH — A season-ending injury to an All-America tailback can derail a championship-caliber football team. But since October, when Minnesota Duluth lost career rushing leader Isaac Odim to a knee injury, the Bulldogs have remained on course to compete for their second NCAA Division II national championship in three seasons.
Showing its depth at running back and strength on the offensive line Saturday, top-ranked UMD beat Augustana 24-13 in a quarterfinal game at Malosky Stadium.
Minnesota Duluth (13-0), which won the title in 2008, will play defending champion Northwest Missouri State (12-1) in a semifinal next Saturday. The game's time and location will be announced Sunday.
Senior running back Brian Hanson -- who began the season No. 3 on the depth chart -- rushed 25 times for 124 yards and a touchdown as the Bulldogs amassed 247 rushing yards on 61 carries.
"They rushed it 60 times, so eventually they are going to get some wear and tear and push you and wear you down," Augustana coach Mike Aldrich said.
Augustana, of Sioux Falls, S.D., set a school record for victories (11) and won its first-ever playoff game last week against powerhouse Grand Valley State, but the Vikings couldn't keep the Bulldogs off the field Saturday. With 4 yards per carry and only nine passes, the Bulldogs held the ball for nearly 40 of the game's 60 minutes.
Augustana (11-2) and UMD won their respective divisions in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with their ability to run the ball and stop the other team on the ground.
"I thought it was going to boil down to the team that was able to rush the ball better," UMD coach Bob Nielson said. "That was us today. I think our offensive line played well. Brad [Foss] and Brian [Hanson] ran hard. And I think on the flip side, defensively, we took that away from them."
Hanson, of Proctor, Minn., said his 5-yards-per-carry average was possible with the openings the offensive line created.
"All of my success is because of the big boys up front," said Hanson, who had totaled 351 yards coming into the game.
The line also helped Foss gain 66 yards and quarterback Chase Vogler 75.
In last week's second-round game, UMD had to overcome four turnovers to beat St. Cloud State in overtime. The same ball-control issues carried over to the beginning of Saturday's game.
Vogler, who had two interceptions coming into the game, threw one on the second play of the game. Augustana capitalized three plays later as quarterback Josh Hanson connected with Tyler Schulte on a 34-yard touchdown pass for a 6-0 lead in the game's third minute.
On the next UMD possession, Hanson capped a long drive with a 4-yard TD run.
It was more of the same in the second quarter. UMD marched 65 yards on nine rushes and a pass, with Foss plunging in from the 1.
Andy Greder is a freelance reporter based in Pine City, Minn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCAA DIVISION II QUARTERFINALS MINN. DULUTH 24, AUGUSTANA (S.D.) 13
Semifinals: Minn. Duluth vs. Northwest Missouri State Time and site TBD