INDIANOLA, Iowa – Taylor Nelson plunged into the end zone from a yard out on fourth-and-goal with 22 seconds left as the Simpson football team came back from nine down in the fourth quarter to beat UW-River Falls 35-34 on Saturday.
The third time was a charm for Nelson, who was stopped short after minimal gains on second and third down. He appeared to be stood up again on fourth down, but a second surge sent him across the goal line as the Storm (2-1) held on after giving up a 17-point, first half lead.
Despite being stopped two plays before, head coach Jim Glogowski had no doubts about what play to call on fourth down.
"The only question was what formation we would run out of," Glogowski said. "That play has been good to us. It was a little tense when he got stood up, but he was able to spin in."
Nelson threw for 240 yards, ran for 58 and shook off a fourth-quarter interception deep in Simpson territory which allowed River Falls to take a 34-29 lead. He threw for one score and ran for two more, the passing strike coming on a 76-yarder to Brad Vogel in the fourth quarter which extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 21.
Nelson – who went 20-for-29 through the air – threw two interceptions on the day and was involved in a fumble on a center-to-quarterback exchange, but when the game was on the line, the ball was in his hands.
"He makes us go," Glogowski said. "All things considered, with four minutes to go he marched us down to score the winning touchdown. We put the ball in his hands, and that says everything we can about how we feel putting the game on his shoulders."
Vogel responded nicely after being held in check in last week's loss to Gustavus Adolphus, making eight catches for 115 yards.
As impressive as his body of work was offensively, his play on special teams proved crucial. Given only two chances to return kickoffs thanks to a series of squib and directional kicks by River Falls, Vogel set up the final drive with a big, 34-yard return that put the ball at Simpson's own 48.
"That was huge," Glogowski said. "He's so electric, we know we have to block for him when he gets a chance to return. He's always a threat to score."
Thanks to three, second-quarter scores, Simpson raced out to a comfortable 17-0 lead. Brian Schaaf connected on a 29-yard field goal, Cole Wigert returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and Nelson had a 13-yard touchdown run as Simpson sat in the driver's seat.
But River Falls quarterback Ryan Kusilek had other ideas. The sophomore led a spirited comeback by the Falcons (0-3), who came into the contest with losses to MIAC powerhouses St. Johns and St. Thomas. Kusilek threw two touchdown passes to Jordan Christianson, one to Jake Ryan and added a 34-yard scoring scamper for a 28-17 lead early in the fourth.
A four-yard touchdown run by Michael Chia followed by a three-and-out by River Falls set up Nelson's 76-yard strike to Vogel, as Simpson took a 29-28 lead. Two-point conversion attempts on both scores came up empty.
It looked as though the Storm wrapped up the win on the next drive when safety Sean DeGoey intercepted Kusilek on the Simpson 2-yard line, but Nelson returned the favor when he was picked off by Tyler Ledbeter just three plays later. Kusilek found Christianson from 11 yards out for a 34-29 lead.
"We certainly kept it interesting," Glogowski said. "It's nice to see the kids hang in there. A similar thing happened last week, so it was nice to see them respond. We're a couple plays away from being 3-0, and a couple away from 1-2."
The secondary had a big day for Simpson, intercepting Kusilek three times. Wigert's went for a touchdown and another – by Russ Fairfield in the first quarter – went to the house as well before being called back due to a hold on the return. It marked Simpson's first, three-interception game since 2011.
Kusilek finished 344 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 135 yards and a touchdown on the ground as River Falls out-gained Simpson 520-370 on the day.
Simpson goes into the bye week on a high note and opens Iowa Conference play Oct. 5 at Wartburg.