College football: UMD looks forward to a little home cookin’ to close out the regular season
Bulldogs end the year by playing four of five games at Malosky Stadium.
Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese isn’t one to look too far ahead but even he had to admit he likes what he sees over the next month.
That’s because the Bulldogs close out the regular season with four of their five remaining games at home.
The first of those home contests is 12:05 p.m. Saturday, when No. 18 UMD (5-1) hosts Concordia-St. Paul (1-5) on homecoming at Malosky Stadium.
“It’s fun to be able to close the year out like that, with only one road trip left,” Wiese said. “That’s a bonus for us hopefully at the end of year here. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever had this before, and I’m not sure how it happened.”
According to Nick Kornder, assistant commissioner for media relations with the NSIC, the league schedule became unbalanced when the league dropped to 14 teams.
Each team plays six in-division games and five out-of-division, with the first four weeks featuring out-of-division games alternating home and away for all teams.
The way the schedule worked out, UMD had six home games this year, with most of those coming at the back end of the schedule.
No team can have more than two home games or two away games in a row. UMD just came off a two-game road trip. After playing CSP this week, the Bulldogs are home to Bemidji State, off to Minot State and then back home for games against Augustana and Northern State Nov. 13 to close out the regular season.
No matter the quirkiness of how it worked out, the Bulldogs will gladly take it, as they are traditionally tough at home, including 12-0 in homecoming games since 2008.
“It’s exciting to be back in front of our home crowd,” said senior running back Cazz Martin. “It’s definitely a great feeling (to play four of the next five at home).”
“Concordia gets after it on defense. They’ve got some high guys on defense who have high motors, and really in this conference, especially this year, you can’t overlook a team just off their record. We’ve got to treat every game like our last game, or like a playoff game, because this year, everyone is beating everyone.”
Wiese said that senior quarterback John Larson will play this week after missing the last two games with an injury.
Wiese was asked if Larson would start and the coach said, “potentially.”
Larson returned to practice last week but didn’t play as UMD held on for a 31-27 win at Mary.
UMD’s 12:05 p.m. start time against Concordia-St. Paul isn’t typical for the Bulldogs, who moved the game ahead to accommodate for a busy home sports day that includes UMD volleyball against Mary at 4 p.m. at Romano Gym, as well as the Icebreaker men’s hockey tournament at Amsoil Arena.
“Departmentally it made sense to start our game at noon for fans and everybody else to be able to get to multiple games,” Wiese said. “It’s going to be a busy weekend. There’s going to be a lot of moving parts for our athletic department, so it’s going to be one job at a time throughout the day for everybody.”
Spoken like a true football coach, applying a game plan to game management.
Next week's game against Bemidji State will be at 2:05 p.m. to give the Beavers a little more time as they are expected to travel to Duluth that day.
Among UMD stat leaders, wide receiver Armani Carmickle ranks 18th in NCAA Division II in yards per reception at 22.55. However, that stat is even more impressive when you consider that Carmickle has the most receptions (29) and second-most yards (654) of anyone ranked ahead of him on that list.
UMD’s defense is almost always good, but on third down? Downright stingy. UMD has only allowed 16 conversions on 71 third-down attempts, good for a paltry 22.5%, second in the nation only to California University (Pa.), which is at 15 of 75 for 20%. In addition, the Bulldogs rushing defense ranks 16th at 86.2 ypg and they are tied for 10th at 3.83 quarterback sacks per game.
Golden Bears welcome newcomers
Concordia-St. Paul’s roster includes 11 players from St. Cloud State’s defunct football program and one from that of Minnesota-Crookston.
After the Huskies and Golden Eagles dropped their programs following the 2019 season, Concordia’s coaching staff worked with campus administrators to find a good fit for as many players from those programs to continue playing college football in the NSIC as members of the Golden Bears. All but one of those 12 players have seen action and four have made starts.
If that wasn’t enough, all those players joined the CSP program in the spring 2020 semester, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to put the skids to much of college football, for a season, at least.
Now, football is back, and of that group, only one (Robert Kraklow) is a senior and two (Luke Dunsmoor and Luke Shepherd) are juniors as nine of the 12 will have at least three years with the Golden Bears and five able to play four.
Shepley vs. Shepley
UMD sophomore defensive back Marcus Shepley could see some action Saturday against his brother Jake Shepley, a Concordia-St. Paul junior wide receiver.
Marcus Shepley had his top defensive performance for the Bulldogs last week at Mary with four tackles while Jake is in his fifth year at Concordia and leads the Golden Bears with three touchdown receptions.
The brothers from Burnsville, Minnesota, are also proficient at punting, with Marcus serving as UMD’s punter for the first two weeks of the season, averaging 39 yards on 10 punts, while Jake serving as Concordia’s primary punter for part of the 2018 season, averaging 39.3 yards on 31 punts.
A pair of former UMD players having good seasons at Concordia are junior wide receiver Isaiah Koran and linebacker and leading tackler Foster Conzet. The players are from the Twin Cities and spent the 2016 at UMD as redshirts.
CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL AT NO. 18 MINNESOTA DULUTH
What: UMD football’s homecoming
When: 12:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Malosky Stadium
Records: Concordia-St. Paul 2-4, UMD 5-1
Forecast: sunny with a high of 58 and 10-20 mph wind
TV: My9 Sports Network
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM
CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL AT MINNESOTA DULUTH
National rankings: Concordia isn’t ranked; UMD is No. 18 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll and No. 16 by d2football.com.
Series: UMD leads the series 10-3, including a 32-3 Bulldogs’ victory in their last meeting Sept. 29, 2018, at Malosky Stadium in Duluth.
Coaches: Shannon Currier is 16-34 in his fifth season at Concordia-St. Paul; the Golden Bears showed great improvement, going 5-6 in 2018 and 6-5 in 2019 before struggling to win games this season. Curt Wiese is 76-16 in his eighth season at UMD; .
Outlook: Concordia-St. Paul struck first with some trickery when Jake Shepley hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Evan Peterson on a double-pass but it was almost all Bemidji State after that as the Beavers won 42-14 last week at Sea Foam Stadium in St. Paul. Junior running back Lajuan Preston had nine carries for 83 yards and a touchdown to lead the Golden Bears but outside of that early trick play, their passing attack sputtered, with one touchdown to two interceptions. Conner Cordts leads the team with 857 passing yards and six touchdowns to only one interception while Jaylin Richardson is tops with 194 rushing yards and 383 all-purpose yards.
“Concordia traditionally has been an athletic, physical football team, and I don’t think they are any different this year,” UMD football coach Curt Wiese said. “They play hard, they play fast and they’re athletic. They’ve had some misfortune as far as turnovers and giving up some longer plays on the defensive side and special teams mishaps. All of that stuff can lead to a record that isn’t what you want it to be, but if you look at our league right now, you have to respect every opponent you play.”
UMD is coming off a 31-27 win at Mary as freshman quarterback Logan Graetz had career highs for passing yards (150) and passing touchdowns (four) with no interceptions for the North Dakota State transfer.
UMD running back Cazz Martin posted his second 100-yard rushing game with 17 carries for 141 yards. Despite being limited two weeks ago due to injury, Martin leads the Bulldogs with 79 carries for 507 yards and four TDs, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
“I’m feeling probably as healthy as I’ve felt all season going into his game,” Martin said.
Despite a couple nail-biting wins the last two weeks Martin said that has actually hardened the Bulldogs and made them resilient.
“That just lets us know we can win the ‘w’ at crunch time,” Cazz Martin said. “We’ve been there before. To have like three or four games where it comes down to the last drive, that’s good to have in our pocket going into the end of the season.”
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune