Tom Sawyer, who has led the Winona State University football program since 1996, has announced he will retire from coaching at the conclusion of the 2021 Warrior football season.
The announcement comes as the Winona State program completed their spring season with the 2021 Warrior Spring Game held on Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Sawyer owns every Warrior football coaching record, earned over 25 years as the head coach of one of NCAA Division II football most consistently successful programs.
When asked what was most important to him as the University prepared for the announcement, Sawyer said, "My relationships with the players and coaches. That has been so important to me from day one and I have been blessed and fortunate to be surrounded with terrific people."
Sawyer has earned the opportunity to let the numbers to speak for themselves.
He is 190-86 in 24 seasons as the head football coach at Winona State University. His .688 winning percentage reflects consistent success earned in one of the toughest football conferences in the country, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).
Winona State president Dr. Scott Olson said, "Coach Sawyer and the Warrior football program are synonymous. He has built something remarkable here at Winona State: a great, competitive football program where student-athletes succeed in the classroom as in the stadium. We are so proud of the program, and eternally grateful to Coach Sawyer. He will be greatly missed, but he has built something that will endure"
With Sawyer leading the program, Winona State has had Warrior football student-athletes earn Academic All-American honors thirteen times, awarded by several different recognizing bodies, including the CoSIDA Academic All-America committee, GTE All-Academic committee, and ESPN The Magazine.
Since taking over in 1996, four of Sawyer's student-athletes have been honored by the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) with the Glen Galligan Award. The Glen Galligan Award is given to a student-athlete who participates at his institution for four years and is academically superior while making a positive contribution to the institution. Under Sawyer, seven Winona State Warriors have been finalists for the Harlon Hill award, the highest honor available to NCAA Division II football players.
Eric Schoh, the director of athletics at Winona State, noted, "We are sad to see Coach Sawyer go, and yet are excited about seeing the 2021 Warriors with Tom at the helm. You cannot talk about Warrior football without thinking of Tom. His successes speak for themselves, but more importantly, his character and the character of the program are second to none. He will always be a part of this program and I look forward to spending more time with him on the sidelines as a fan in 2022, and beyond."
Tom Sawyer was named the NSIC football Coach of the Year five times, receiving the award as voted on by his coaching peers in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2004 and most recently, in 2017.
Sawyer has led WSU in ten NCAA Division II post-season contests, including seven NCAA Division II football playoff games and three Mineral Water Bowl appearances. Winona State has finished .500 or better 21 times under Sawyer, and his teams have earned ten NSIC Regular Season or Divisional championships. In the 107-year history of the program, only one other postseason contest which was played without Tom Sawyer as the head coach was the 1993 NAIA Championship Game, in which he served as a Warrior assistant coach.
To say Sawyer has deep roots at Winona State and in the community is a profound understatement. Sawyer played football and baseball for the Warriors as an undergraduate student-athlete and joined the WSU coaching staff as an assistant under head coach Dave Bassore in 1987. When not found on the turf of Maxwell Field or in the weight room of the Integrated Wellness Center overseeing his program, Sawyer is visible elsewhere in the region, speaking to local high school sports teams, connecting with his WSU faculty colleagues, and playing a major role in the community in which he resides.
Said another way, since 1987, Tom Sawyer has stood on a Warrior sideline every fall football season as an assistant coach or head coach, except for 1990-91, a year he spent coaching and teaching at Cochrane-Fountain City High School. He earned both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in education at WSU, where he is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Science.
Tremendously well-respected in the area and in the profession of college football coaching ranks, Sawyer is known around Winona as a down-to-earth, humble, and approachable leader. Aside from his record-setting success on the field, Sawyer's ability to connect with and relate to people from all facets of the greater Winona area are an indelible legacy of his quarter century at the helm of Warrior football.
Tom Sawyer is a man who has helped shape the careers and lives of countless Warrior success stories, from student-athletes who have gone on to successful careers, as well as professional football players, and dozens of impactful coaches in the NFL, NCAA and high school football communities. While comfortable and successful in the spotlight that comes with being a NCAA football coach, Sawyer is quick to include others in his successes, and has served admirably as an ambassador of the University for more than two decades.
While the timing of writing the last chapter of Sawyer's coaching legacy is known, the contents of the pages reflect the promise and potential of the 2021 fall football season.
Winona State was 8-4 in 2019, the last Warrior season on record and saw WSU earned their third trip to the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo. The program returns a veteran coaching staff and will feature an experience-laden group of student-athletes. The Warriors, with Tom Sawyer leading the team, will open the 2021 season against Concordia – St. Paul on Thursday, September 2.
Tom Sawyer has two children, Jessica, and Tommy. Sawyer's son was a member of the Winona State football team from 2007-09, and Jessica and husband Mike have two sons, Max, and Carson. Sawyer and Connie Mettille live in Winona.
As Winona State football begins their preparations for the 2021 fall season, Coach Tom Sawyer said, "I have been truly blessed to lead this amazing program! But to have one more opportunity with this very talented team, the 2021 season will be the best gift any coach could wish for…it is a great day to be a Warrior!"
The WSU Football Players Association (FPA) is planning a 25-year reunion for Homecoming weekend, which will occur on Saturday, October 9 when the Warriors take on Northern State University in a 2pm contest. In what will be Sawyer's last Homecoming game, the FPA and Winona State Alumni Office will look to the occasion to properly acknowledge Sawyers' contributions to the program, department, University, and community.
Former players, coaches, fans, and families are encouraged to contact Scott Opfer with the FPA and Tracy Hale, Director of Winona State alumni engagement to learn more regarding the Winona State football 25-year reunion, held in conjunction with WSU Homecoming celebration.
Press Release from WSU Athletics
Winona State University head football coach Tom Sawyer has announced the 2021 recruiting class for the Warriors, which is comprised of of 17 student-athletes. This year's class consists of 14 high school senior student-athletes who will join the team next fall and three college transfers.
Head coach Tom Sawyer noted, "We couldn't be more excited to welcome the 2021 Signing Class to the Warrior Football Family. This is a class filled with some of the best high school seniors from the Midwest region, as well as some very talented transfers at a few key positions. This is a group of student athletes we feel will step foot on campus and fit right in with the culture we have in our football program. We as a staff are very excited to get them here in the fall and get to work!"
Five different states are represented in the 2021 class, who will compete for Sawyer and his staff; Sawyer has been the Warrior head coach for 25 years and is closing in on the 200-win mark for his career.
While the 2020 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) football season was canceled, in 2019, Winona State earned an 8-4 record in 2019 and made the programs' fourth appearance in the Mineral Water Bowl. The Warriors have tallied at least eight wins every season since 2016 and qualified for the postseason twice in that timeframe.
The 2021 Warrior football schedule is available at this link.
The complete Winona State 2021 recruiting class is as follows:
In partnership with the Winona State Football Players Association, WSU Football is starting a Career Development Program to provide current/future players an experience to prepare them for a better career path.
If you are interested in becoming a Warrior Mentor in the Career Development Program, please fill out the questionnaire below so that we can market your success to recruits.
Available for download below is an example of how we will market your information to recruits.
Please return completed questionnaires along with a current headshot and, if available, a picture from your time at WSU to email@example.com.
Winona State University is pleased to announce the 2020 Athletic Hall of Fame Class, which recognizes six former Warriors representing five WSU programs. This year's inductees are: Rich Ernst (football), Jonte Flowers (men's basketball), Reggie Johnson (football), Amanda (Wilhelm) Kallenbach (softball), Scott Wanshura (baseball), Ana Wurtz (women's basketball).
Recently, Winona State University made the decision to move the 2020 Hall of Fame class induction ceremony to the fall of 2021. The purpose of the change was to provide the 2020 inductees the full opportunity for proper recognition in a on-campus event. More information on the fall 2021 WSU Hall of Fame ceremony will be released as it is available.
Rich Ernst, Football, 1971-75: As a quarterback, Rich Ernst threw for 43 career touchdown passes, ranking him 6th all-time among Warrior signal callers. Ernst earned All-Conference accolades in 1974 and sits in the Winona State Top-20 in career total offense. Over his four years, Ernst completed 237 of his 458 attempts, good for 3,259 yards, and ran for 281 more, topping out his career total yardage mark at 3,540. In 1974, Ernst threw for 18 touchdowns in his senior season, currently good for 14th all-time in that category. At the conclusion of his final Warrior campaign, Ernst earned Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America honors for his performance at Winona State.
Jonte Flowers, Men's Basketball, 2004-08: Jonte Flowers was one of the best NCAA Division II players on some of the best NCAA Division II basketball teams ever to take the floor. Flowers struck fear in the hearts of opposing guards, racking up 414 career steals, which still stands as the NCAA Division II record and is second all-time across all three NCAA levels. Offensively, Flowers was equally effective over his four years at WSU, scoring 1,882 points (4th all-time), while collecting nine different All-America awards, most notably a 2008 Daktronics 1st Team All-America honor. Flowers earned the NSIC Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards in each of his four Warrior seasons, standing as the only four-time Player-of-Year selection in any NSIC basketball award category. Flowers becomes a two-time Winona State Hall of Fame inductee after he was also admitted in 2018 as a key member of "The Run" which included the Warriors' 2006-08 teams
Reggie Johnson, Football, 1981-83: Reggie Johnson helped lead his 1983 Winona State teammates to the NIC football regular season title, and his leadership on and off the field were key components in Warrior success during his career. Lining up as a durable running back for the Warriors, Johnson ranks 10th in career rushing attempts (376) for Winona State and his 1983 total single season carry tally (182) is 15th all-time. Over his four years, Johnson amassed 1,551 rushing yards, currently 18th in Warrior history. He also returned punts, sitting 5th all-time with 49. Johnson earned the Glen Galligan award in 1983, along with All-Conference and All-District honors. Off the field, Johnson was the vice-president of the WSU student senate, president of the BCA (Black Cultural Awareness) and member of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). He currently sits on the WSU Foundation Board.
Amanda (Wihelm) Kallenbach, Softball, 2006-09: Amanda (Wihelm) Kallenbach was a key component on some of the best Warrior softball teams in the history of the program. She helped her team reach the 2009 NCAA Division II World Series, earn NSIC Tournament Championships in back-to-back fashion (2008,2009) and led the 2007 squad to the NSIC regular season championship. Individually, Kallenbach was a NFCA 1st Team All-America selection in 2009, as well as earning a spot on the NCAA Division II World Series All-Tournament that same year. The three-time All-NSIC selection compiled a career batting average of .358, hit 26 home runs, had 130 RBI's along with 244 career hits. In 221 games played, Kallenbach hit 49 doubles; each previously mentioned mark currently ranks in the Warrior softball top-10 in the respective category. The four-year letter winner top season performance occurred during her senior campaign, when she hit for a .421 average, with 14 home runs, 91 total hits and 22 doubles.
Scott Wanshura, Baseball, 1987-89: Scott Wanshura played three seasons for Winona State after transferring to WSU from Grandview College and graduated as one of the best hitters in Warrior history. He was dominant at the plate over that time, with impressive career marks, hitting .431, with 33 home runs and 162 RBI's. His .431 lifetime average, 56 career doubles and 26 game hitting streak all rank No. 1 in WSU baseball history. Wanshura earned All-America honors in 1988 (1st Team) and 1989 (2nd Team) and led the 1988 Winona State team to the NAIA World Series. Wanshura was an All-Conference and All-District performer all three years at Winona State, and a leader on Warrior teams which won three consecutive Conference championships. During his career, Wanshura collected several single season batting accolades, including the most consecutive at-bats reaching base (18), most hits (89), and home runs in a season (20); his single season .590 batting average still stands as a conference record. Wanshura passed away on August 31, 2018 after a long battle with cancer and is inducted posthumously by the committee.
Ana Wurtz, Women's Basketball, 2007-10: Women's basketball standout Ana Wurtz owned the territory behind the three-point line as a Warrior player; Wurtz hit 254 3-pointers in her WSU career, which is tops in that category. Overall, Wurtz scored 1,355 points, good for 4th all-time in the Winona State record book. In the 2008-09 campaign, Wurtz led WSU to its first-ever NCAA Division II tournament appearance in women's basketball. Her leadership and ability did not go unnoticed, as Wurtz was selected to the All-Region team that year, and was later tabbed as the Winona State Female Athlete of the Year. Upon completion of her playing career, Wurtz stayed on with WSU as a graduate assistant coach, earning her master's degree in Sport Management. Prior to the 2018-19 season, she was elevated to associate head coach after serving as an assistant since 2013.
The Winona State University Athletics Hall of Fame is located in the Integrated Wellness Complex. The Hall of Fame features digital and displayed honors of impactful Warrior student-athletes, teams, administrators and community members. For more on the WSU Hall-of-Fame, please use this link.
In light of the NCAA Board of Governors’ decision to direct all institutions and conferences to meet specific requirements to conduct fall sports and the NCAA Division II Presidents Council’s announcement that all NCAA Division II fall championships are canceled, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s Board of Directors has canceled NSIC fall competition & championships, and has suspended all athletic competition through December 31, 2020.
The NSIC recognizes the value an NCAA championship experience provides for student-athletes and that was a factor in the analysis. However, health and safety concerns prevailed in the league’s decision. Additionally, current recommendations for testing, exposure, and quarantine make it very difficult for a season to be successfully completed at an institution or across the conference without severe disruptions.
“The league’s initial decision to delay the start of fall sports was made with the rationale to allow campuses the ability to focus solely on reopening safely for their broader university communities,” said NSIC Commissioner Erin Lind. “In light of the recent decisions made by the NCAA Board of Governors, it is no longer feasible to conduct outside competition this fall semester. Our student-athletes deserve a competitive experience that provides a greater degree of safety and certainty than current conditions would allow. We believe now is the right time to provide clarity to our student-athletes so we can turn our efforts towards helping institutions reopen and ensuring a safe return to campus to start the academic year.”
Although the NSIC will not conduct a league schedule for 2020 fall sports, competition is an integral part of the student-athlete experience, therefore, the membership is committed to exploring meaningful opportunities and experiences for fall student-athletes in the spring, if it can be done reasonably and safely.
The conference will continue to monitor the landscape and conditions surrounding the pandemic, locally, regionally, and nationally, and make any decisions or announcements, as necessary.
About the NSIC
The NSIC is a 16-team, 18-sport, NCAA Division II conference with institutions located in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The NSIC is a model Division II conference that uses high-level athletics competition to develop champions in the classroom and community while empowering student-athletes to be impactful and positive leaders. Formed in 1992 by the merger of the Northern Intercollegiate Conference (men’s league) and the Northern Sun Conference (women’s league), the NSIC has flourished over the past quarter century, maturing into a 16-team union of Upper Midwest colleges and universities. The NSIC has won 23 team national championships and crowned 77 individual national champions.
Cinder blocks, trash cans and Zoom.
It’s not exactly the spring the Winona State University football team expected, but it represents the current reality, as it and the rest of the sports universe navigate through a holding pattern amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It’s a holding pattern that calls for the shuttering of college campuses nationwide.
Classrooms, academic and athletic facilities — normally bustling — now sit in an odd silence.
“It’s really weird,” WSU coach Tom Sawyer said. “Your whole life is surrounded by a hundred kids at a time, staff, people on campus to now standing at home looking at the river. It’s a little different, but we are trying to make the most of it, that’s for sure.”
Making the most of it means getting acquainted with Zoom — a video conference meeting service. With the majority of players back in their hometowns, the service has been a way to establish a new normal. That means holding video conferences with over 100 people at times — something they tried for the first time last week.
“The first 10 minutes was just guys picking on each other,” Sawyer said. “But that was really healthy to see everybody smiling because everybody’s in a bad situation. … That interaction is really important.”
Zoom is vital as Winona State works through installing plays and schemes. It allows position groups to work with one another in front of their respective coaches or with Sawyer and watch film together.
“Honestly, it’s actually been better than I thought it’d be,” said senior quarterback Owen Burke, who is home in Lakewood, Colorado. “Once we get into those meetings, it’s pretty productive or at least as efficient as it can be.”
From a football perspective, Sawyer isn’t too worried, although the Warriors’ spring game — originally scheduled for April 25 — is canceled. Sawyer’s No. 1 concern, he says, is the isolation the pandemic has forced onto some and everything that potentially comes with it. That’s part of the reason why the coaching staff helped start an email chain.
The players, meanwhile, have run with it. Emails containing ‘quarantine updates’ such as what they have been up to and how they have been passing the time fill their inboxes. They also have been sending inspirational videos, quotes, book passages and other powerful motivational messages.
“The biggest thing is keeping our communication with kids up so they don’t suffer from depression and anxiety,” Sawyer said. “There is a lot of pressure on kids right now. Just being alone. … You have 100 guys, that’s 100 different situations.”
So far, so good.
“The coaches are doing a good job of keeping us in the loop with everything and (understanding) where we’re at, what we can do,” redshirt sophomore Clay Schueffner said. “Just doing the best they can ... to get us better mentally. And then it’s kind of on our shoulders to get us ready physically for the upcoming season.”
Finding a spot to work out has also been a bit of a challenge.
Schueffner is lucky. He has a friend deployed in the military that lives down the road with a workout area that features crossfit training equipment along with other weights. Others aren’t so fortunate, but they have shown some ingenuity.
At Burke’s house in Winona, they turned trash cans into a makeshift squat rack in their backyard. Others made a trip to to buy pipes and cinder blocks to make bench presses or to do curls. Whatever it takes to get their workouts in.
“Guys just have to get creative to do what we can to get better,” Schueffner said. “It’s not a time to blame others and make excuses. It’s the time to press forward and really show that we want to be successful.”
Sure, they miss spring ball.
Burke said, “it’s one of the best things about playing college football,” because you are “in the football grind as much as humanly possible.” It’s a vital time in a player’s development in that it allows everybody a chance to play, a chance to put the plays into action, a chance to develop team chemistry, and it’s a way to let loose during a long offseason. But right now this is the position — they, along with the rest of college football — currently find themselves in.
“We all wish we were there in spring ball,” Burke said. “It’s tough for the seniors. This is our last spring in Winona along with we have a lot of young guys on the team that really benefit from spring ball. That’s a bummer, but we’re not the only team dealing with it. We’re just trying to make the most of it.”
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"We are extremely excited to announce our 2020 signing day class. This class is made up of 37 players from seven different states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Georgia, and Ohio. It has players that were all-state selections, state champions, and team captains in their high school careers. This group is not only one of the most talented classes that we’ve ever brought in, but is also group of high character kids that come from winning programs."
-Head Coach Tom Sawyer
Meet the players below. Click HUDL or the @ above each player's photo in the press release to see their highlight reel and twitter profile respectively.
The Don Hansen Football Committee has released its 2019 Don Hansen NCAA Division II All-America Team, naming Winona State University's Paul Ortiz a Second Team All-American.
Ortiz, a kicker from Chula Vista, California, earns All-America honors for the first time to cap his senior season. He recorded a new career high in field goals made (20-for-24) while setting a new Winona State single-season record in the category. Ortiz ranked second in the nation this season in field goals made/game (1.82).
Ortiz also handled the punting duties for WSU in 2019, averaging 38.82 yards/attempt with eight punts sailing over 50 yards and 17 of those landing inside the opponent 20-yard line.
Ortiz was named First Team All-Conference (kicker & punter) in 2019, earned First Team All-Region accolades by the D2CCA and Don Hansen Football Committee on top of his now All-American season.
The Don Hansen Football Committee has announced its 2019 Don Hansen NCAA Division II All-Super Region Four Team, honoring four members of the Winona State University Warriors.
Paul Ortiz (First Team Special Teams), Sam Santiago-Lloyd (Third Team Offense), Nick Pridgeon (Third Team Defense) and Isaiah Hall (Third Team Defense) were each named to the All-Super Region Four Team. Hall was a Second Team All-Region selection in 2018 and went on to earn Don Hansen All-American Honorable Mention status.
Ortiz, a First Team All-Conference performer at kicker and punter in 2019, was also named to the D2CCA All-Super Region First Team last month. The senior recorded a career high in field goals made (20-for-24) with a long of 49 yards this season. Ortiz's 20 converted field goals also set a new WSU single-season record. His 1.82 field goals/game ranked second in the nation.
Santiago-Lloyd, was also a First Team All-NSIC recipient in 2019. The junior running back rushed for career highs in yards (956) and touchdowns (8). He ranked third in the NSIC in yards/game (95.6) and fourth in total rushing yards and touchdowns. Santiago-Lloyd racked up 1,116 all-purpose yards and nine TDs despite missing the final two games of the season.
Pridgeon, the 2019 NSIC Preseason NSIC South Defensive Player of the Year, concludes his stellar career with All-Region honors for the first time. The three-time All-NSIC performer returned from a season-ending injury in 2018 to lead the Warriors with a career-high 70 tackles (37 solo) while tallying 1.5 sacks and 12.0 TFL. Pridgeon also recorded two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Hall, a First Team All-NSIC Defense and Second Team All-NSIC Special Teams selection, excelled at both his cornerback and kick return duties. The junior recorded 48 tackles (30 solo), one force fumble, two interceptions and eight pass break-ups. On special teams, Hall led the NSIC and ranked 13th in the country in kickoff returns (28.0 yards/return). His 585 kick return yards are a new career best and were highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown return.
Winona State finished the 2019 campaign with a record of 8-4 after playing in the Mineral Water Bowl. The Warriors have won at least eight games in four straight seasons and qualified for the postseason in two of the last three years.
Following a three-week wait, the 54th annual Mineral Water Bowl got off to a fast start on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium between Winona State University and the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Unfortunately for the Warriors, it was the UNK Lopers who put 15 points on the board in the first six minutes and led wire-to-wire in a 50-33 decision.
Winona State's defense entered the season finale allowing just 16.6 points/game, but was gashed by the Lopers' option offense in the loss. UNK rushed for 427 yards and six touchdowns, including 240 yards on the ground in the first half to take a 36-19 advantage into halftime. Loper quarterback TJ Davis accounted for 144 of those rushing yards and four scores while throwing for another touchdown as he attempted just six pass attempts.
The Warriors did force a pair of takeaways, including an interception by Cole Monckton and a fumble recovery by Alex Evans. Winona State concludes the year with 29 forced turnovers – a mark that ranks seventh in the country this season. The Warriors' 21 interceptions this season were the fifth-most among all NCAA Division II teams.
Saturday's tilt started with a three-and-out by the WSU offense, preceding UNK's lightning-quick scoring drive on the other end. The Lopers needed just two plays, a pair of rushes, to find the end zone on the feet of Davis who scrambled 54 yards for the first points of the game. UNK converted its two-point attempt, and the same sequence would follow. The Warriors next possession went backward, and Davis rushed for 39 yards on two plays for another scored and a 15-0 lead.
Winona State's next offensive possession lasted 14 plays and covered 57 yards, but stalled in the red zone and the Warriors settled for three points on a Paul Ortiz field goal.
UNK ran just two plays once again on its third possession, but this time resulted in a forced fumble recovered by Evans. The Warriors then showcased their quick-striking ability with a 23-yard touchdown run by Miguel Benjamin.
The Lopers kept their foot on the gas and struck again to close the action-packed first quarter with a 22-9 advantage.
Winona State opened the second quarter by picking up a pair of critical third downs and once again cut into its deficit with a 51-yard pitch and catch from Owen Burke to Sawyer Maly. Ortiz closed the frame with another field goal to keep the Lopers within striking distance after UNK found the endzone two more times in the quarter for a 17-point halftime lead.
After yielding 36 points in the first half, the Warrior defense answered in a big way after the break by blanking the Lopers in the third quarter. Winona State put the lone puts of the frame on the board with a 33-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Knutson.
UNK would dash the Warriors' hopes of a comeback in the fourth quarter with bookend scoring drives – both covering over 75 yards.
Burke, who hadn't played under center since Week 10, showed little signs of rust, throwing for 284 yards and three touchdowns in the setback. Maly hauled in a pair of catches for 89 yards and a score while Jake Balliu recorded a team-high five catches for 68 yards.
Clay Schueffner led the defense with 10 tackles, capping a big year that saw the redshirt freshman recorded a team-best 76 tackles.
Winona State closes the 2019 campaign with a record of 8-4 after reaching the postseason for the 11th time in team history and 10th under head coach Tom Sawyer. The Warriors have won at least eight games in each of the last four season.
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) has announced its 2019 Football All-Conference Teams, including 10 members from the Winona State University Warriors. The complete list of Warrior award winners is listed below.
All-NSIC South First Team Offense: Sam Santiago-Lloyd
All-NSIC South Second Team Special Teams: Isaiah Hall
Santiago-Lloyd, a first time All-NSIC recipient, rushed for career highs in yards (956) and touchdowns (8). The junior ranked third in the NSIC in yards/game (95.6), and fourth in rushing yards and touchdowns. Santiago-Lloyd racked up 1,116 all-purpose yards and nine TDs despite missing the final game of the regular season.
Hall was an All-Conference First Teamer for Defense and Special Teams a year ago. The junior recorded 48 tackles (30 solo) one forced fumble, two interceptions and eight pass break-ups. On special teams, Hall led the NSIC and ranked 14th in the country in kickoff returns (27.9 yards/return). His 585 kick return yards are a new career best, and were highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown return.
Pridgeon, the 2019 NSIC Southern Preseason Player of the Year, is a three-time All-NSIC honoree, earning First Team honors for the first time. After returning from a 2018 injury, the redshirt senior led the Warriors with a career-high 70 tackles (37 solo) with 1.5 sacks and 12.0 TFL. Pridgeon recorded two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Ortiz earns NSIC All-Conference honors for the first time in his career. The senior led the league in field goals made (18-22) and had a career-long 49-yarder this season. Ortiz also handled the punting duties in 2019, posting an average of 38.98 yards/punt with eight attempts sailing over 50 yards and 17 times pinning the opponent inside the 20-yard line.
Balliu, a three-time All-Conference recipient, is named to the First Team for the second time. The redshirt junior also returned from a season-ending injury in 2018 and ranked second in the NSIC and 16th in the country in punt return average (12.0). Additionally, Balliu led Winona State in catches (45), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (7) while ranking sixth in the NSIC in TD catches.
Berlin, despite missing the final five games due to injury, repeats as an All-Conference First Team member.
Gomez, another Warrior who missed the 2018 campaign with an injury, becomes a two-time First Team recipient. The redshirt junior led WSU in sacks (5.0), ranked second in TFL (10.5), and third in total tackles (49) while recording one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Moore earns All-Conference Second Team honors for the second straight year while also having his 2019 season cut short due to injury. The junior captain recorded 28 tackles (16 solo) with 3.0 TFL in five games.
Gavin, another Warrior who missed 2018 with an injury, bounced back for a great year in 2019 to earn his first All-NSIC nob. The redshirt junior totaled 47 tackles (34 solo), had a team-best nine pass break-ups, and was second in the team in interceptions (3).
LaLiberty continued to battle through an injury-plagued career to earn honorable mention status for the second straight season. The redshirt junior started the first eight games of the 2019 campaign before having his year cut short due to injury.
Winona State (8-3) will continue its 2019 season into the postseason when the Warriors take on the University of Nebraska-Kearney in the Mineral Water Bowl on Saturday, December 7 at 12 p.m.
Winona State University has been selected to play in the 2019 Mineral Water Bowl on December 7th against the University of Nebraska-Kearney. The Warriors are 2-1 in previous Mineral Water Bowl appearances, having last played in the game in 2012.
Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. on Saturday, December 7 at Tiger Stadium in Excelsior Springs, Missouri in the 54th annual Mineral Water Bowl.
Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets at the Winona State Athletics Box Office prior to traveling to the game. Tickets cost $10 and will be available on Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Winona State went 8-3 in the regular season, reaching the eight-win plateau for the fourth straight season. This is the Warriors' second postseason appearance in the last three years after reaching the NCAA Playoffs in 2017. Overall, Winona State is making its 11th postseason appearance.
Nebraska-Kearney finished the regular season 6-5 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA). This is the 12th postseason appearance in the 113-year history of the UNK program. The Lopers only other bowl trip came in 1955 when then-Nebraska State Teachers College beat then-Northern State Teachers College, 34-13, in the Botany Bowl.
The Warriors and Lopers have met once previously with Winona State recording a 50-34 victory in 1994 played at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis.
For more information on the 2019 Mineral Water Bowl, click here.
Additional game and media coverage details will be announced in the coming days.
Saturday afternoon at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium opened full of optimism as Winona State University honored the 19 members of its 2019 senior class and prepared for a clash against Augustana University in a matchup that pitted two regionally-ranked teams fighting to stay alive in the NCAA Playoff hunt.
Unfortunately, the day ended on a sour note for the Warriors as the Vikings engineered a come-from-behind victory in the final minute of play to oust the home team, 26-25. Augustana registered its game-winning points with 41 seconds remaining on the clock after a controversial no-call on the Vikings' go-ahead touchdown score.
The teams traded the lead three times in the final frame in which senior John Rumpza connected with Jake Balliu for a go-ahead touchdown strike to flip a one-point deficit into a 25-20 Warrior lead with 3:09 left to play. Augustana answered on the ensuing drive with a quick first down before being faced with a fourth-and-11 against the stout Winona State defense.
The Vikings, who also had their backup quarterback under center, nabbed the vital first down by inches to stay alive, and three plays later, the game-winning 30-yard pass sailed into the endzone. The Warrior defense pressured Zach Masoli on the play, as they had done all day long, forcing the quarterback out of the pocket to unleash his victorious pass in what appeared to be past the line of scrimmage. Despite Winona State's objections, the play stood and Augustana prevailed with the triumph.
WSU led by a 10-0 count in the first quarter, but that hardly told the story of how the back-and-forth affair endured from the opening kick to the final whistle. Saturday's pivotal tilt between the No. 7-ranked Vikings and No. 9-ranked Warriors in the Central Region featured five lead changes and was a one-possession game for 55 of the 60-minute contest.
It was far from a perfect game by the Warriors, who were limited to just one offensive first down in the first quarter and three total in the first half, but Winona State's defense and special teams made it a ballgame and trailed by the slightest of margins at halftime, 17-16.
Reigning NSIC Defensive Player of the Week, Nick Pridgeon, broke the scoring seal when the senior recorded an 85-yard interception return for the game's opening touchdown. A quick defensive three-and-out later saw Paul Ortiz drill his first of four field goals to pad the WSU lead to 10-0. Augustana answered with a tidy three-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, setting up the neck-and-neck battle from there.
After a Warrior three-and-out on offense, Ortiz punted which resulted in a forced fumble by Tyler Anderson that was scooped up in Viking territory by Romario Gayle. Ortiz cashed in the turnover with another field goal to pad the Warrior lead at 13-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Augustana proceeded to leverage a 10-3 second quarter to pull ahead by one point at halftime. Ortiz's 27-yard field goal stood as the score in the third quarter which led to the photo-finish in the fourth.
Rumpza performed admirably in emergency duty as starting quarterback Owen Burke went down midway through the first quarter after a Viking sack. The senior went 17-for-31 and threw for 182 yards with one touchdown in what was eerily similar to Rumpza's heroics in the 2018 finale when he was pressed into duty and rallied the Warriors for a win against Concordia-St. Paul. However, Saturday's story had a different ending.
Anderson led Winona State's receivers with five catches for 71 yards and Balliu caught six passes for 53 yards and a score. The ground game was the difference in the outcome as Augustana rushed for 236 yards compared to just six for WSU. In total, the Vikings out-gained the Warriors in yardage, 550-188.
Despite the setback, Winona State's postseason hopes are not completely dashed as the Warriors still have one game remaining and could qualify for the Mineral Water Bowl. WSU travels to Concordia-St. Paul next Saturday for the finale and a 12 p.m. kickoff at Seafoam Stadium.
The Winona State University defense burrier Southwest Minnesota State for a season-high seven sacks while the Warrior offense continued to hum in a 41-13 stampede of the Mustangs on Saturday afternoon at the Schwan Regional Event Center.
Winona State (7-2) continued to pad its postseason resume with its fifth straight win overall. SMSU falls to 3-6 after going winless at home in the 2019 campaign.
The victory ensured The Sledge, sponsored by Big Athletics/Adidas, would return to Winona for the fourth straight year in the annual battle's fifth year of existence. Senior linebacker Nick Pridgeon was awarded the game's individual MVP Award after a monster day that included 12 tackles (2.5 TFL) and 1.5 sacks.
Saturday's tilt marked the first time this season the Warrior defense, which leads all Division II teams in interceptions (17), failed to force a turnover. That didn't prevent the swarming unit from leaving its stamp on the game as seven different players tallied at least half a sack – led by Michael Gomez (2).
Offensively, Winona State gained 451 total yards, including 175 on the ground. Sam Santiago-Lloyd produced 140 yards and two scores for his third straight outing over 100 yards rushing. The junior has already rushed for a career-best 950 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Since their last loss on September 28, when the Warriors were stymied for just six points against nationally-ranked Minnesota State, Winona State has averaged 36.6 points over its current five-game winning streak. The Warriors are outscoring their opponents, 183-73, over that span.
Winona State broke open Saturday's contest with a 21-point outburst in the third quarter. The Warriors led 7-0 after one quarter and took a 14-6 lead into halftime as both teams scored in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
Owen Burke connected with Jaylen Schleicher for a 54-yard strike as the second frame clock ticked under one minute. That scoring drive was set up by a big defensive stop that saw the Warriors stuff the Mustangs twice on 3rd-and-4 at the WSU 25-yard line.
SMSU received the ensuing kickoff with just 46 seconds remaining in the first half but was able to drive 60 yards over five plays to find the endzone for the first time. The Mustangs missed the PAT which preserved a 14-6 WSU lead at the break.
A 51-yard Isaiah Hall kick return opened the third quarter and set the tone for the second half blowout. Four plays later, Santiago-Lloyd bullied his way into the endzone for the second time to pad the WSU lead at 21-6.
John Rumpza took over under center for the Warriors in the second half and hooked up with Schleicher for a 22-yard pitch and catch midway through the third frame. Schleicher, a sophomore tight end, registered a career-best 76 receiving yards and two scores. Jake Balliu led the receiving core with five catches for 90 yards.
Landon Jacobson capped the Warriors' big third quarter with a rushing touchdown and Johnny Chamberlain also scampered into the endzone in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Clay Schueffner continued his solid play of late, posting 11 tackles (1.5 TFL), half a sack and one pass breakup. Gomez was behind the line of scrimmage all day with eight tackles, including 3.0 TFL.
The Warriors return home on Senior Day next Saturday for a game with huge playoff ramifications against Augustana University. WSU was ranked No. 9 in this week's Super Region Four and Augie was No. 7. The top seven seeds in each region reach the NCAA Playoffs. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 9 at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.