Bemidji State was seconds away from pulling off the biggest upset of the early Division II football season Saturday night.
Then No. 10 ranked Minnesota State University, Mankato completed a rally with a stunning drive in the final seconds of regulation and scored a touchdown in overtime to defeat the Beavers 37-34 at Blakeslee Stadium.
The result was a stark contrast from last year's meeting when the Mavericks dominated the Beavers for a 28-14 win.
The Beavers showed significant improvement on Saturday, but there is little comfort in progress and this loss will sting Bemidji State.
Bemidji State fell behind early, but gutted out a 21-point third quarter rally and played tough through the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
In the end, Mankato's explosive offense had the last word when Ernest Walker rumbled through the middle of the field and broke several tackles on the game winning 18-yard touchdown run.
Mankato improved to 2-0 (1-0 NSIC) with the win while Bemidji State dropped to 1-1 (0-1 NSIC).
The Beavers return home next Saturday afternoon to face rival Winona State at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The Beavers played well in several areas Saturday, but made key mistakes. And Mankato made the Beavers pay each time for those mistakes.
The most critical error came in overtime when backup quarterback Lance Rongstad hit Brian Leonhardt for a 12-yard touchdown pass on second down. It was called back after Rongstad was flagged for an illegal forward pass.
Jesse Sundby later kicked a 34-yard field goal and briefly put the Beavers ahead before Walker scored the winning touchdown two plays into Mankato's overtime possession.
BSU's second biggest mistake came on Mankato's final possession during regulation.
The Mavericks stayed alive by stopping BSU on what would have been a game-ending first down with just over a minute to play.
Ahead 31-24 at the time, Bemidji State was forced to punt.
The Mavericks were left with 1:03 left on the clock and had to drive 73 yards with no timeouts for a touchdown to force overtime.
The Mankato offense needed only three plays.
Maverick wide receiver Chris Nowlin pulled down a 35-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Steve Pachan in the end zone with 28 seconds remaining to tie the game.
Nowlin zipped down the sideline and raced behind the coverage for the catch.
Prior to that heartbreaking catch, Bemidji State played the underdog role well.
Mankato's size advantage on the offensive and defensive line was evident once again.
So Bemidji State relied on speed, misdirection, screen passes, short passes, options and bootleg plays to trip up the Mavericks
Bemidji State opened the game with a commanding drive - 14 plays and 71 yards - but all that showed for it was a 27-yard field goal by Sundby.
Walker answered with his first of three touchdowns on the day on the following drive and the Mavericks went up 7-3.
BSU starting quarterback Derek Edholm then threw an interception that was converted into a 1-yard touchdown run by Walker to give the Mavericks a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
That was Edholm's last mistake of the day and Bemidji State's offense began to gash the Mankato defense.
Edholm capped off a methodical 17-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown scramble with 4:52 left in the first half to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Mankato led 14-10 at half.
The third quarter belonged to the Beavers.
MSU quarterback Brian Fick left the game with an injury, bringing in Pachan.
The Beavers forced MSU running back Jake Aberg to fumble on the first play of the third quarter and Andrew Eagan recovered for BSU.
Bemidji State took advantage and six plays later, Edholm rushed for a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Beavers back ahead 17-14.
But the big play ability of the MSU offense continued to show when the Mavericks answered with a four play, 55-yard scoring drive to go back on top 21-17.
Fortune continued to come Bemidji State's way with some hard work from the defense.
Defensive end Rob Wills intercepted a screen pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown to put Bemidji State ahead 24-21.
Mankato fumbled the ball away on its next drive and Brody Scheff recovered it for BSU at midfield.
Edholm led the offense down the field on a nine play, 52-yard drive to put Bemidji State up 31-21. He ended the drive with a two-yard run for his third touchdown of the day.
Edholm was apparently hurt on the play and did not return, giving way to Rongstad.
Edholm rushed for a team-high 116 yards and completed 10 passes for 69 yards. He accounted for 185 of Bemidji State's 310 yards of offense.
In the fourth quarter, time could not run down fast enough for the Beavers.
A botched punt gave the Mavericks excellent field position and Mankato kicker Sam Brockshus hit a 29-yard field goal to cut Bemidji State's lead to 31-24.
The score gave the Mavericks new life and Bemidji State managed just three first downs on the two drives before Nowlin's game-tying catch.
When the game ended, Bemidji State owned the clock with nearly 42 minutes of possession time compared to 18 minutes for Mankato State.
Bemidji State also won the turnover battle in large part by forcing four fumbles and recovering three.
It was a game that simply slipped away for Bemidji State.