Rocafort, Ralph Lead Pipers Ground Attack as Hamline Hangs on for Victory
The Hamline University Pipers jumped out to a 24-7 lead and looked like they were going to blow out the University of Minnesota-Morris Cougars, but the Cougars battled back to make this a two-point game before time ran out as Hamline earned the 30-28 victory. The Pipers saw their best ground game in more than five years, as Nikol Rocafort and Alec Ralph combined for over 200 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Connor Leavens threw for 200 yards and two scores.
Hamline dominated the first half, outscoring UMM 18-0. It started with the Pipers taking the opening kickoff and marching 73 yards in 12 plays before taking a 6-0 lead. It was a methodical drive, as the team burned 6:17 off the clock. Rocafort got the drive started with a 12-yard carry. Hamline faced a third and 2 at their own 47, but Leavens kept the drive alive with an 8-yard completion to Moses Nelson. That was the first of sixth Street completions by the Pipers quarterback, including a 28-yard strike to Charlie Wilson that moved the ball to the Cougars 17. On second and 4 at the six, Ralph took the handoff and scored.
The Cougars were forced to punt on their first possession of the game, but a spectacular kick by Alex Happ gave Hamline the ball at their own 5-yard line. This looked like a golden opportunity for UMM, but the Pipers put together another impressive drive, moving 95 yards in 10 plays before scoring once again. This time, the team used 5:25 of clock time before scoring. Leavens set up touchdown with a 25-yard completion to Eli Danielson that put the ball at 5-yard line. On the next play, he found Wilson once again to make it 12-0.
If that was not impressive enough, the defense forced a turnover on downs at their own 37. From there, it was a methodical drive that saw the team move the distance in 18 plays, burning 7:55 off the clock. Leavens completed the drive, scoring from 1 yard out to make it an 18-0 lead.
Morris had very little opportunity to do anything in this contest, as the Pipers had the ball for nearly 20 minutes in the first half. It was a dominating performance by Hamline, but the Cougars responded to start out the second half, moving 11 plays in 59 yards before cutting the deficit to 11. This time it was UMM using clock management, as they controlled the ball for 5:55. Garrett Elison scored from 10 yards out to make it an 18-7 game.
The Pipers responded right away, moving 70 yards in a place. Rocafort had the big play of the drive, a 34-yard carry that moved the ball to the UMM 25-yard line. Four plays later, Leavens found Matt Miller for a 12-yard touchdown to make it a 24-7 lead.
The Cougars responded right away, moving from their own 41 in 11 plays before Marcus Reeb scored from 1 yard out to make it a 24-14 game.
The defenses stiffened over each of the next two possessions, but Morris would cut the deficit to three when they scored with 2:31 left in the game. The 16 play, 76 yard drive was capped off by a 10 yard touchdown pass from Reeb to Ethan Tang.
The Cougars went for the onside kick, but it was recovered by Hamline. That gave them the ball at the Morris 46, and three plays later it looked like they had sealed this victory when Rocafort took the handoff and raced 39 yards for a touchdown.
Up 30-21, it looked like this game was over, but Reeb led his team the other way, moving 54 yards in nine plays before scoring from 1 yard out to make this a two-point game. Unfortunately for the Cougars, there were just 30 seconds left on the clock. The onside kick was recovered by the Pipers. They then kneeled on the next play, finishing off the victory.
Rocafort led the Hamline offense, carrying the ball 16 times for 133 yards and a TD. Ralph had 12 carries for 69 yards and a score. Leavens finished 18-24 for 200 yards and two TDs. Wilson led all receivers with four catches for 75 yards and a score. Miller had six catches for 42 yards and a TD.
Despite the late rally, the Hamline defense was very good. Sam Fritz led the team with 14 tackles. Chip Kindt had the only sack of the day for the Pipers.
The Cougars were led by Reeb, who completed 21 of 36 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 15 times for 47 yards and two TDs.
Hamline University (2-0) earned victories in their first two games of the season for the first time since 2016. They will look to move to 3-0 when they take on Carleton College (2-0) on Saturday. The kickoff is scheduled 1:00.
by Robert Pannier