It wasn’t the prettiest game of the season. But a win’s a win, and the Dubuque Spartans finally have their first American Rivers Conference victory of the season.

After a late mishap by the Spartans gave the ball to Coe with under a minute remaining, the UD defense — again — stepped up with its back against the wall. Three 45-yard Hail Mary heaves by Kohawks quarterback Quentin White were batted down by the Spartans secondary, and Dubuque walked off with a 20-14 win over Coe on Saturday at Chalmers Field.

It was a little closer to comfort than Spartans coach Stan Zweifel would prefer. The Kohawks (3-2, 2-1 A-R-C) burned their final timeout on UD’s last offensive possession with a little more than a minute to go. Facing third and long from the Coe 47, the Spartans needed only to eat some clock and flip the field on a punt to give the Kohawks less than a prayer of working its way back into this one.

But on that third down, UD running back Kordell Stillmunkes swept out of bounds, stopping the clock with 1:01 remaining. The Spartans’ ensuing punt set Coe up at its own 22 with 53 seconds remaining.

Quentin White completed passes to Colton White and Sam McCartney to push the Kohawks into Dubuque territory with 22 seconds left. A touchdown, plus the extra point, would have cost the Spartans a win.

“We did not play very well today,” said Zweifel. “I was disappointed that we don’t play intelligently at times. We gave those guys life when they shouldn’t have had life.”

The Coe quarterback couldn’t connect. Quentin White’s first pass sailed out of bounds, his second was broken up by Marshon Crowder and his final attempt was swatted away by Dubuque DB Blaze Barista to seal the Spartans’ victory as time expired.

“When you’re 1-3 you lose a lot of confidence. That win today, we needed badly for our mental health more than anything else,” said Zweifel, whose team improved to 2-3 (1-2 A-R-C). “We found a way to win in tough conditions. I’m happy for the win.”

With starting running back Dwayne Allen Jr. sidelined with a turf toe injury, the UD rushing attack turned primarily to Stillmunkes, a Cuba City, Wis., native and former Iowa Hawkeyes walk-on. For the most part, the freshman back performed exceptionally well in Allen’s absence, with a steady downpour in the first half forcing both teams to lean heavily on the run.

Stillmunkes had 13 carries on an 18-play, 82-yard drive that ate up over 9 minutes in the first quarter and ended with him slipping into the end zone from 10 yards out for the game’s opening score. That was enough to give UD a 7-0 lead by halftime, with the Spartans running the ball 31 times against just five pass attempts through the first two quarters.

The Kohawks couldn’t capitalize on several short fields in the first half, thanks in part to some clutch plays by the Dubuque defense. Coe drove all the way to the Spartans’ 8 but came away emptyhanded after a botched snap on a field goal attempt turned the ball over on downs. The Kohawks made it to the red zone again with seconds left before halftime, but Quentin White’s would-be touchdown pass was picked off by UD’s Josh Ezekiel in the end zone with 1 second remaining in the second quarter.

Coe eventually found paydirt early in the third when A.J. Christensen blocked an Andy Vujnovich punt and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, and the Kohawks took their first lead on a Tyler Dralle punch-in, 14-7, at the 6:50 mark of the frame.

Otherwise the Spartans bent but didn’t break. Stillmunkes scored his second touchdown on Dubuque’s next drive, and UD regained the lead in its first series of the fourth when QB Sean Duffy dropped a nice looking 5-yard fade pass to A.J. Hunter in the right corner of the end zone.

“One of our biggest issues in past weeks was battling adversity, which we faced a lot in this game,” said Spartans linebacker Chad Marsh, who finished with eight total tackles in the win. UD held Coe to 241 total yards and 6 of 20 on third or fourth down conversions. “Today seemed like things were working. There was one drive where it seemed like it kind of fell apart, but we were able to overcome it and come back together.”

Stillmunkes finished with 101 yards rushing and two catches for 16 yards, Colton Pederson had a game-high 11 tackles (three for a loss), and Barista finished with four pass breakups to lead the Spartans.

Dubuque travels to Central (4-0, 2-0 A-R-C) for next week’s game.

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