Interception return allows No. 20 Chadron State to spoil Miner opener.
Tyler Fenwick didn't get a 'W' in his head coaching debut Thursday night.
But his Missouri S&T football team was a winner in just about every other aspect.
Against a nationally-ranked Chadron State team that was loaded with returning skill players from last year's NCAA Division II playoff qualifier, the Miners were just a couple of mistakes away from posting a thrilling victory on Thursday.
But in double-overtime turnovers ended up winning out.
Junior cornerback Lane Haller, who caused a total of three S&T turnovers, returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime, lifting the No. 20-ranked Chadron State Eagles to a wild, 40-34 non-conference victory over the Miners at Allgood-Bailey Stadium.
It was the season-opener for both teams.
The Eagles tied the game up 27-27 with :44 left in regulation on a 12-yard TD pass and PAT.
S&T's junior Melvin Stovall returned the following kickoff up the middle for 42 yards to get to the Chadron State 46 yardline with :36 remaining. S&T worked the ball to the Eagle 29 yardline before stopping the clock with its final timeout and six seconds remaining to bring in senior place-kicker Adam Peden to attempt the game-winning field goal.
Peden, who earlier in the game nailed a 40-yarder with plenty of distance to spare, got the last-second attempt off, even after holder Reed Brown had to reach behind himself to grab the snap, and most of the large Miner crowd originally thought he had booted the winner. However, the kick was wide-left and was waved off with one second remaining, and the game went into overtime.
In collegiate overtime each team gets the ball at the opponent's 25 yardline with a full set of downs and the chance to make a first down, score a field goal or score a touchdown with an extra point or two-point conversion.
S&T won the overtime coin flip and elected to play defense first.
The Eagles got a 16-yard pass from junior John McLain to senior Cody Roes, and senior running back Glen Clinton followed with a two-yard run. McLain then hit Roes with a seven-yard TD pass. Randy Wentz added the PAT to make it 34-27.
On the Miners' first overtime possession sophomore running back Zenel Hudson ran for three yards and Brown, a sophomore quarterback, then hit Stovall with a pass to the Eagle four. Hudson followed with runs of three and one yard to score the TD. Peden added the extra point and it was tied at 34.
For the second overtime Chadron State got the choice and elected to play defense first.
After Hudson was stopped for a three-yard loss, Brown went to the air and made one of his rare mistakes in the game, as his pass was picked off by Haller, who sprinted down the Miner sidelines for the 79-yard INT return winner.
"I learned a lot about our kids," Fenwick said. "The game went back and forth and they never let the momentum get to us. The same with (Chadron State). It was one of the top games I've ever been a part of. We had very little depth and just kept on making plays."
After the Eagles missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on the game's opening possession, S&T was forced to punt after a three-and-out.
Then the Miners' first mistake cost them a TD, as the punt attempt was blocked by Haller and recovered by Chadron State's Danny O'Boyle at the Miner seven. After a S&T personal foul penalty, Clinton would score from one yard out.
The Miners tied things up later in the first period on a 11-play, 81-yard drive, capped by a Brown-to-Stovall 26-yard TD pass. Peden's PAT made it 7-7.
The rest of the half was a defensive struggle, with the Miners taking a 10-7 halftime lead went Peden booted a 37-yard field goal with :19 left in the half to cap a 13-play, 70-yard drive.
The fireworks display that ended the halftime intermission was fitting, as the offensive explosions then began to pick up.
A couple more Miner miscues cost the team a touchdown to open the third period.
On the fifth play from scrimmage Hudson broke away for a 66-yard touchdown run. However, that play was brought back on a S&T holding penalty. Two plays later Brown went to the air and found Stovall for a 37-yard pickup to the Eagle 35. Brown then hit junior wideout Leon Moody with a pass, but Moody fumbled the ball and the Eagles' Dylan Furrier recovered to end the drive.
After Chadron State missed a 35-yard field goal try, the Miners added to their lead on a eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive, coming when Brown split a pair of Eagle defensive backs and found freshman wideout Ben Matthews for a 40-yard scoring bomb.
Chadron State responded immediately with a 64-yard scoring drive of its own, as McLain completed four passes for 44 yards in the drive. Clinton scored the TD on a three-yard run. Alex Ferdinand, who had missed two earlier field goal attempts, also missed the extra-point attempt, which banished him to the bench for the rest of the game.
Yet another S&T turnover allowed the Eagles to regain the lead. On the first play from scrimmage following the Eagle kickoff, the ball was snapped over Brown's head and the Eagles recovered at the Miner two yardline. Clinton followed with his third touchdown run, and the Wentz PAT gave the Eagles a 20-17 edge, which stood after three quarters.
The Miners quickly tied the score on their next possession, although Brown had a TD pass dropped in the endzone. S&T settled on Peden's 40-yard field goal, making it 20-20.
It appeared S&T was on its way to taking the lead on its next offensive drive. The Miners drove deep inside Chadron State territory, as a 24-yard pass from Brown to junior wideout Nick Taylor got the ball to the Eagle four. However, on the next play Brown fired a pass into the endzone, where it was picked off by Haller for a touchback to end the threat.
After a three-and-out the Eagles lined up to punt the ball back to S&T, but a short snap allowed the Miners to tackle the punter at the Eagle 14 yardline. Four Miner rushing plays ensued, with Hudson scoring the touchdown from two yards out. Peden's kick gave S&T a 27-20 edge with 2:57 remaining in regulation.
The Eagles displayed a quick-strike attack to again tie the score and force overtime. Clinton broke off a 55-yard run to get to the Miner 24. After two more rushing attempts, Clinton took a handoff and picked up five yards to the S&T 12 for a first down with 1:14 left.
After an incomplete pass, McLain again went to the air and found Roes, who made a one-handed grab for the 12-yard scoring reception. The Eagles appeared to debate going for a two-point conversion and a chance at the lead. However, Wentz eventually trotted in and kicked the game-tying extra-point, forcing overtime.
S&T committed four turnovers - two fumbles and two interceptions.
However, the Miner offense, trying to overcome big losses through graduation and injuries, produced 504 yards. In fact, S&T and Chadron State combined for 1,004 yards of total offense and 53 first downs.
In his first start under center Brown was impressive, completing 27-of-40 passes for 365 yards and two scores. Hudson was the last man standing of the Miner projected three-headed running back combo and he rushed for 96 yards on 33 carries. Stovall caught nine passes for 150 yards while Taylor made six catches for 93 yards and Matthews five for 64.
Clinton ran for 140 yards on 22 carries for the Eagles while McLain hit on 37-of-58 passes for 341 yards.
In practice last week S&T lost its top returning rusher, sophomore Scott Hendricks, with a knee injury. And in the first quarter Thursday senior running back Anthony Moore, who was supposed to share the position with Hudson, went down with a possible concussion and didn't return.
Also for S&T preseason All-America defensive tackle Eddie Rascon, one of the national leaders in QB sacks a year ago, went down with a knee injury in the first period and played sparingly thereafter.
Neither team recorded a quarterback sack.
"We had some performances," Fenwick said. "Hudson is a warrior. And (Brown) is something else. He's a fighter. He's only been in this system for three weeks and has just grasped it. Reed and those receivers really got on the same page. Stovall, Matthews and some of the others made huge catches. It's too bad (we lost), because we played so well."
Now the Miners prepare for another huge test in their beefed-up schedule, traveling to St. Joseph on Saturday, Sept. 14 to meet last year's Division II playoff quarterfinalist Missouri Western in non-league play (6 p.m. kickoff). Fenwick was Missouri Western offensive coordinator the previous six seasons before coming to Rolla.
The Missouri Western Griffons, ranked No. 6 nationally, opened their season on Thursday by rallying past Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association rival Central Missouri 26-23.
"There is no question we'll watch (our game film) and we'll see some mistakes," Fenwick said. "When you feel like you outplayed the other team and lose...it's tough. But it's way too early to get down...we've got at least 10 more games still scheduled.
"We're going to give Western everything we've got."