College football: Bulldogs dealing with injury to quarterback John Larson

Senior returned to practice this week but backups ready if he can't go this week at Mary.

John Larson (9) of Minnesota Duluth is pressured by a Wayne State defensive player while passing the football Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. Larson did not play last week at Minnesota State-Moorhead but the Bulldogs survived for a 26-21 NSIC victory. File / Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

Minnesota Duluth quarterback John Larson was injured in the second half of UMD’s NSIC football game two weeks ago against Wayne State but managed to finish out the game.

Larson was sore the next day and didn’t practice all week as the Bulldogs prepared for a game last Saturday at Minnesota State-Moorhead.

“John improved throughout the week, but he just wasn’t ready to go by Saturday,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said.

Instead, the Bulldogs went with Logan Graetz and Garrett Olson under center last week and escaped Moorhead with a 26-21 victory, with Graetz finding Armani Carmickle with an 8-yard touchdown pass with two seconds remaining to win the game.

While it might be a tad premature, UMD coach Curt Wiese was asked if that was a season-saver.


“I would agree,” Wiese said, almost surprisingly. “A loss at that point in the season would have been a tough one to swallow, but I think if you look at our region, everybody has a loss outside of one team, and everybody in our conference has at least one loss, so you really can’t look forward and you can’t look back. It’s got to be a week-by-week mentality.”

No. 19 UMD (4-1) plays an NSIC North Division game at Mary (2-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Wiese wouldn’t say what injury Larson is dealing with but he did say the senior signal caller returned to practice this week, so that’s good news for the Bulldogs.

If Larson can’t go, it will be back to Graetz, a 6-foot-4, 214-pound freshman who transferred from Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State, or Olson, a senior from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School who appeared in eight games for UMD in 2019, throwing for 415 yards and two touchdowns as Larson dealt with injuries that year, too.

“In the sport of football you’re going to have injuries and you need to have that next-man-up mentality,” Wiese said. “Fortunately our guys rallied Logan and Garrett last week.”

Graetz finished 10-for-19 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown against Moorhead while Olson was 9-for-12 passing for 114 yards and two scores as UMD scored all 26 of its points after halftime. The Bulldogs continue to deal with a high volume of penalties, including 12 for 100 yards against the Dragons.

“I thought both of them played well last week,” Wiese said. “We sputtered on offense in the first half last week, and a lot of that, again, was due to penalties, so you can’t pin that on those guys.”

Moving on up (the UMD record book)

UMD senior Nate Pearson of Lake Nebagamon was sitting at his computer Monday, looking at film, when he received a text from his father, Gary, saying congratulations.


It was a screenshot of the UMD linebacker being named NSIC Defensive Player of the Week after leading the Bulldogs with eight tackles, including six solos, with four tackles for loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks.

“I texted him back a lot of exclamation points,” Pearson said. “I was really excited.”

Dad pointed out that the NSIC Offensive Player of the Week was Mary quarterback Logan Nelson, so something will have to give this week when Mary and UMD square off.

“Dad said it looks like it’ll be a good battle this week,” Pearson said.

Pearson, a UMD captain, isn’t one to be hung up on stats but a little recognition is nice.

“Seeing that, I don’t want to say it helps push me, but I want to keep getting that now,” Pearson said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”


Pearson’s performance came just one week after UMD junior linebacker Brad Dati had a monster game in a 31-28 home loss to Wayne State, with Dati having a career-high 14 tackles, including a program-record seven for loss. That broke the record of former UMD linebacker Sean Callahan (1988-91), who had five TFLs — including a program-record 4.5 quarterback sacks — against Southwest Minnesota State on Oct. 27, 1990.

With 5.5 sacks this season, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Pearson, a former multisport standout at Northwestern High School, has moved past Callahan and into second place on UMD’s career quarterback sack chart with 23.5.

“Are you serious?” Pearson said. “I had no idea.”

Pearson is only six quarterback sacks from breaking the UMD career mark of 29 by Russ Rabe (2001-04), who received NFL tryouts following his stellar Bulldogs’ career. Pearson just might, too.

Pearson, to his credit, is down to earth. He is that quintessential ah shucks, happy-go-lucky small-town kid who is easily excitable who just loves playing. He can’t wait to get after it this weekend.

“Hopefully we can keep winning, secure a spot in the playoffs and see where it goes,” Pearson said. “I”m getting excited just talking about it. Saturday can’t come fast enough. I could go right now.”

What: NSIC North Division football game
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Community Bowl (7,000 capacity, artificial turf), Bismarck, North Dakota
Records: UMD 4-1, Mary 2-3
Bismarck forecast: Scattered thunderstorms with a high of 66 and 10 to 15 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM

National rankings: UMD is No. 19 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll and No. 17 by Mary, which will be playing its homecoming game, isn’t ranked.
Series: UMD has a perfect 13-0 record against Mary, including a 59-7 rout in the teams’ last meeting Nov. 9, 2019, in Bismarck as Bulldogs quarterback John Larson carved up the Marauders for 225 passing yards and five touchdowns.
Coaches: Curt Wiese is 75-16 in his eighth season at UMD; Craig Bagnell is 5-22 in his third season at Mary, his alma mater.
Outlook: UMD is coming off a 26-21 victory at Minnesota State-Moorhead as Logan Graetz found Armani Carmickle with an 8-yard touchdown pass with two seconds remaining to carry the Bulldogs to victory. All of the Bulldogs’ points came after halftime. Graetz and Garrett Olson will continue to see time under center this week if starter John Larson isn’t back from an injury suffered two weeks ago in a 31-28 home loss to Wayne State.
“I thought our guys did a good job staying with it,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “We knew we had some significant injuries, and not having John play, we were going to have a little bit different tempo as a team. It took us half a football game to settle in and put some points on the board.
“We feel good about where we’re at. Both Garrett and Logan have had more time and are a little more seasoned than they were going into last week.”
Graetz and Olson combined for 252 passing yards and three touchdowns, Carmickle had 10 receptions for 113 yards and two TDs and Byron Bynum added six receptions for 113 yards and another score. UMD has also been banged up in the backfield so backup Chamere Thomas’ performance — six carries for 121 yards and a touchdown — also provided a boost.
Mary, meanwhile, is coming off a 49-42 win at Northern State as senior quarterback Logan Nelson was 24-for-34 passing for 454 yards and school-record-tying six touchdowns to earn NSIC Offensive Player of the Week honors. He also ran for 40 yards for 494 yards of offense on the day.
Nelson has plenty of offensive weapons, with receivers Danny Kittner (56 receptions, 850 yards, 9 TDs) and Luke Little (42-602-9) leading the league in receiving.
“They are a lot different than in years past,” Wiese said of Mary. “They are more explosive offensively than they’ve been. They throw the ball around extremely well. They have a good enough running game to complement their passing game, their quarterback is playing at a high level and their receivers are extremely effective. This is a football team where we’re going to have to play well and play smarter than what we have the last couple weeks.”
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune

Mary senior quarterback Logan Nelson (9) was named NSIC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 454 yards and six touchdowns in the Marauders’ 49-42 win at Northern State last week. Photo courtesy of Tran Doan / University of Mary Athletics

Mary senior quarterback Logan Nelson (9) was named NSIC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 454 yards and six touchdowns in the Marauders’ 49-42 win at Northern State last week. Photo courtesy of Tran Doan / University of Mary Athletics

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
What to read next
Emily Carpenter, who played both basketball and softball for the Yellowjackets, returns to Wisconsin-Superior.
Kamo'i Latu, a former three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals, participated in 19 games over two seasons at Utah before his move to the Midwest.