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NCC preview: South Dakota Coyotes at UMD Bulldogs

SOUTH DAKOTA COYOTES AT UMD BULLDOGS * What: North Central Conference football opener * Game time: 6 p.m. today. This is the last of three straight home night games to open the season for UMD. * Where: Malosky Stadium (4,000 capacity, artificial ...

SOUTH DAKOTA COYOTES AT UMD BULLDOGS

* What: North Central Conference football opener

* Game time: 6 p.m. today. This is the last of three straight home night games to open the season for UMD.

* Where: Malosky Stadium (4,000 capacity, artificial turf)

* Radio: KDAL 610 AM

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* Series: This is the seventh meeting between the teams, who have been meeting annually since 2001, with the series tied 3-3.

* Records: South Dakota 1-1; UMD 1-1

* Coaches: Kyle "Bubba" Schweigert (Jamestown College, 1985) is 19-16 in his fourth season at UMD. Ed Meierkort (Dakota Wesleyan University, 1982) is 28-9 in four seasons at South Dakota, posting nine wins in each of the past three seasons.

* Polls: South Dakota is ranked No. 19 by the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll and No. 17 by D2Football.com.

* Noteworthy: The NCC begins its last season of football today. The renowned NCAA Division II league formed in the fall of 1921 and awarded its first conference championship the following spring.

* About South Dakota: The Coyotes won their 20th straight home game last weekend with a 49-28 victory over Winona State. Senior Amos Allen, a transfer from Dixie State College in Utah, rushed 20 times for 220 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Noah Shepard completed 17 of 27 passes for 293 yards and two more scores. South Dakota, which is averaging 47 points and 648 yards per game, has the nation's top-ranked offense. It's a balanced attack, with 290.5 of those yards coming on the ground and 357.5 through the air. Shepard is a dual threat to either pass or run the ball. He has talented receiving targets and good size in Dan Skelly (6-foot-1,178 pounds) and Brooks Little (6-2, 218), who have combined to catch 23 passes for 442 yards and seven TDs. Senior Christian Morton leads an offensive line that has three seniors and averages 6-5, 290 pounds. The defense is led by Blake Hojer, a 6-1, 237-pound linebacker who led the Coyotes in tackles (65) and tackles for a loss (eight) last season.

* About UMD: The Bulldogs fell 45-27 at home last weekend to Missouri Western State as UMD couldn't overcome six turnovers that led to 17 Griffon points. The teams combined for 848 yards of offense, with Bulldogs quarterback Ted Schlafke completing 32 of 56 passes for 298 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had a career-high 91 rushing yards on 19 carries. His top target was Noah Pauley, a former Duluth Central standout who went into the season expecting to redshirt but was thrust into a playing role in part because of a foot injury to fellow freshman D.J. Winfield. Pauley caught nine passes for 82 yards and a TD, while another freshman, Dennis Carter, added six catches for 74 yards and three more scores. UMD's defense will look to bounce back after a subpar performance in which they gave up five plays of more than 20 yards, including Cedric Houston's 75-yard TD reception that gave Western a 28-13 lead to start the third quarter. Junior Dustin Timmersman had the Bulldogs' lone sack, just one week after the team had a school-record 10 in a season-opening victory over Bemidji State. UMD may need a big day from Schlafke and Co. to keep pace with the Coyotes.

* Injury update: Besides Winfield, sophomore cornerback Cole Strilzuk (finger) and rookie running back Rob Casasnovas (shoulder) won't play today.

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 jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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