MINNEAPOLIS - Southwest Minnesota State quarterback Charlie Kern passed for 317 yards and tossed five touchdown passes, while Tyler Tonderum - the leading rushing in Division II - racked up 156 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries to lead SMSU to a 55-24 victory over Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday at the Metrodome.
The victory was the third straight for SMSU (6-4 NSIC, 4-2 NSIC South) and secures the program's first winning season since 2008 and just the ninth in program history. The win also keeps SMSU in the hunt for the Mineral Water Bowl, which goes to the highest ranked team in the NSIC not to qualify for the NCAA playoffs. SMSU is tied for fourth place in the NSIC standings with both Winona State and Upper Iowa, but SMSU has beaten both teams. The three-game winning streak is the longest for SMSU since the 2004 season.
Kern completed 27 of 39 pass attempts and recorded his third 300-yard passing game of the season. He also rushed for 57 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Jordan Cross and Cody Condon each led SMSU with six receptions, with Cross finishing with 92 yards and one touchdowns, while Condon had 70 yards and two scores. Anthony Dean finished with two receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
SMSU – which entered the game ranked fifth in Division II in total offense – racked up 571 yards, averaging 7.4 per play. SMSU finished with 254 yards rushing and added 29 first downs. In the process, SMSU set a school record for total offense in a single-season, surpassing the 1987 team. SMSU has recorded 5,495 yards this season.
SMSU opened the game's scoring on its first drive of the game, after the Mustang defense forced a punt on CU's opening drive. Tonderum opened the drive with a 34-yard run and then closed the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes and 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
SMSU forced another punt and the Mustang offense quickly moved the ball 92 yards in 13 plays with Kern completing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Condon to make the score 14-0 late in the quarter.
CU used a 72-yard kickoff return to set up a short touchdown drive and trim the lead to 14-7.
Following punts by both teams, SMSU extended the lead early in the second quarter with Kern completing a 63-yard touchdown pass to Dean to make the score 21-7.
The Golden Bears answered back with a touchdown midway through the quarter to trim the lead to 21-14, but again SMSU had an answer with Tonderum leading the way. The junior running back had runs of 22 and 14 yards to help move the ball to the 17-yard line, before Kern connected on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Condon to give SMSU a 28-14 advantage.
Following a punt forced by the SMSU defense, Kern capped a three-play drive scoring on a 7-yard run to make the score 35-14 with 2:57 left in the half.
CU scored on a fourth-and-four from the 37-yard line with Jarred Russo connecting with Cordell Smith for a touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining to make the score 35-21 at halftime.
SMSU stormed out of the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard drive with Kern closing with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dean pushing the lead to 42-21.
CU put together a solid drive, moving the ball to the SMSU 7-yard line, but on fourth and five, the Mustang defense stopped the Golden Bears on downs to keep the momentum on the SMSU sideline.
Following an SMSU punt, CU answered with a 35-yard Tom Obarski field goal to make the score 42-24 after three quarters.
SMSU then put the game away on its next possession, moving the ball 71 yards on 14 plays and taking advantage of a CU 15-yard penalty on fourth and five from the CU 47-yard line. Facing third and eight from the CU 16-yard line, Kern found Cross open for a 16-yard touchdown pass extending the margin to 48-24.
The SMSU defense – which allowed just 370 yards in the game – capped the scoring with Dashawn Miller stepping in front of a Russo pass and returning it 22 yards for a touchdown making the score 55-24. It was Miller's second interception return for a touchdown this season and third by the SMSU defense.
AJ Page led the SMSU defense with a team-high nine tackles with one for loss and forcing a fumble. JJ Bobrowicz and Blake Pennock each added eight tackles.
Southwest Minnesota State closes the regular season next Saturday, Nov. 16, at Augustana (4-6, 2-4 NSIC South) with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.