College football: Bulldogs sputter in season-opening loss to Sioux Falls

Much was made of all the new quarterbacks in the NSIC this year, including at Minnesota Duluth and Sioux Falls, where the big question mark coming into the season would be how those programs would handle the loss of four-year starters.

Minnesota Duluth quarterback Mike Rybarczyk (8) reaches for extra yardage while getting tackled by Sioux Falls linebacker Dennis Gardeck (47) during Thursday's game at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. Sioux Falls defeated UMD 26-7. (Clint Austin /

Much was made of all the new quarterbacks in the NSIC this year, including at Minnesota Duluth and Sioux Falls, where the big question mark coming into the season would be how those programs would handle the loss of four-year starters.

Chalk one up for Sioux Falls.

While Ian Fieber might not blow anyone away with his arm, he did his part to serve as game manager while his running game and defense, which created a score, did the rest in helping the No. 17 Cougars beat UMD 26-7 in their college football season opener Thursday night before 5,124 at Malosky Stadium.

Fieber finished a pedestrian 9-for-18 for 73 yards, but more importantly, no turnovers. His counterpart on the other side, UMD sophomore Mike Rybarczyk, couldn’t say the same thing, accounting for three of the Bulldogs’ four turnovers while getting sacked eight times.

“That was a great way to get going,” said first-year Sioux Falls football coach Jon Anderson. “Our guys practice forcing turnovers and creating some of those scenarios, but you never think you’re going to get them on the first game. But when the time came, they reacted.”


UMD (0-1) certainly has some work to do before heading to Upper Iowa (1-0) next week. Wiese said Rybarczyk would start next week.

“We need to have better quarterback play,” Wiese said. “It was frustrating tonight, to not make the adjustments. Mike is a guy we’re going to need to lean on. As a program, and certainly from that position group, this is a game we need to flush and move on and learn from.”

In a sign of things to come, UMD started the game with a false start penalty followed by freshman Austin Sylvester fumbling on the first play and Sioux Falls’ Derek Landis returning it 20 yards for a touchdown.

“It was a disappointing start to the game obviously, and unfortunately, things didn’t change for us offensively,” Wiese said. “I thought we were as prepared as we could be, but we continued to not make the adjustments on the field that we were making on the sideline. It’s just really disappointing from our end of things.”

It was about as visibly frustrated as you will ever see Wiese because he knew this was a very winnable game.

All-American running back Max Mickey was the old steady for Sioux Falls (1-0), rushing 37 times for 114 yards and a touchdown, but on the flip side, if anyone told you before the game that UMD would hold the Cougars to 195 yards of offense, and lose, you’d laughed out loud.

The Bulldogs averaged 45.1 points per game last season, sixth best in NCAA Division II and second most in program history, but what a difference a year makes.

Rybarczyk finished 26-for-50 for 228 yards, with an interception and two unforced fumbles, while Jason Balts was the top receiver with nine receptions for 117 yards.


UMD’s defense, much maligned in 2016 when the Bulldogs gave up a school-record 33.1 points per game, came to play. UMD forced three fumbles, including two from Mickey in a rarity, and made him work for every yard he got. Plus, between the Bulldogs’ turnovers and a failed fake punt, UMD was often backed into its own end.

“I think our defense played as well as I’ve seen them play,” Wiese said. “We played extremely well against one of the top tailbacks in the league, if not the top tailback.”

Junior inside linebacker Gus Wedig was outstanding for the Bulldogs, with eight tackles, including two for loss, while Sam Lynch added eight tackles from his safety spot. Last year is forgotten.

UMD is traditionally stout against the run and strong running it, but the Bulldogs managed  negative-16 rushing yards on 30 carries after the sack losses were factored in.

“The matchup was great, but we needed to move the football and we didn’t. We threw our whole game plan out, because we couldn’t get anything to click,” Wiese said. “We weren’t explosive tonight, and we didn’t get the ball off when we needed to get the football off. That loss hurts. We didn’t play well. If you play well and get beat, you can swallow that, but we didn’t play well tonight. The turnovers were costly, but even worse, there just wasn’t’ any spark offensively. We were really bad on first down, which makes it really frustrating to call a game when it’s second down and eight and second down and 10 all night.”

The game pitted teams that went a combined 22-3 last year, with Sioux Falls winning the league en route to a 12-1 record and UMD making the playoffs after finishing 10-2.

Rybarczyk looked good in orchestrating UMD’s lone scoring drive in the second quarter, but then, that momentum disappeared, and that offensive movement came screeching to a halt.

Wiese was asked what happened.


“That’s a great question,” Wiese said, shaking his head.

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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