Rogers’ three TD catches not enough in 41-28 loss
Senior wide receiver Nate Rogers hauled in a career-high three touchdown receptions to become Wayne State’s all-time leader in career touchdown catches, but 21st-ranked Winona State used a balanced offensive attack to outscore the Wildcats 41-28 in the season opener for both teams Thursday at Bob Cunningham Field.
The visiting Warriors scored first on a Javian Roebuck 53-yard run for a 7-0 lead at the 11:06 mark of the first quarter, the lone score by either team in the opening period.
Winona State took a 14-0 lead on the opening play of the second quarter as quarterback Owen Burke found Jake Balliu for a 23-yard scoring strike at the 14:53 mark.
Wayne State got on the board midway through the second quarter when junior quarterback Aaron Bleil fired a 34-yard scoring strike to Rogers, cutting the lead to 14-7. With the catch, Rogers surpassed Jim Strahan’s school record of 27 touchdown receptions from 1947-49.
Rogers added another score at the 5:42 mark of the second quarter, this time from 11 yards out, to even the score at 14-14, but Winona State closed the first half on a Paul Ortiz 26-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, giving the Warriors a 17-14 lead at intermission.
A bad snap by Wayne State on the second play of the third quarter inside its own 25-yard line resulted in Winona State’s Carter Duxbury picking up the loose ball shy of the goal line, scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery to put the Warriors ahead 24-14.
Wayne State responded with a third scoring strike between Bleil and Rogers, this time from 16 yards out, trimming the lead to 24-21 at the 6:31 point of the third quarter.
Winona State closed the third quarter on a 24-yard scoring play from Burke to Balliu, giving the Warriors a 31-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Again, Wayne State came back with a score as Bleil connected with sophomore tight end Conner Paxton on a four-yard play to get the Wildcats within three again at 31-28.
But Winona State closed the quarter with a pair of scores, a 34-yard field goal by Paul Ortiz and a 10-yard scoring pass from Burke to Tanner Gran, giving the Warriors the 41-28 victory.
Winona State held a 450-415 advantage in total offense over the Wildcats. The Warriors produced 202 yards on the ground and 248 through the air while WSC had 60 yards rushing and 355 passing.
Sophomore Marlon Warren was Wayne State’s top rusher with 59 yards on 18 attempts.
Bleil completed 24-of-37 passes for 355 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His top target was Rogers, who had 11 catches for a career-high 195 receiving yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Willie Walton added five receptions for 86 yards.
Defensively, junior linebacker Tyler Thomsen accounted for 12 tackles followed by junior safety Ian Ailts with nine.
Wayne State will play at Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m.