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College football: UMD takes on resurgent Northern State with playoffs at stake

Wolves come in enjoying banner year under new coach Mike Schmidt.

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Senior quarterback Hunter Trautman is third in the NSIC with 3,068 passing yards, with 33 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. Photo courtesy of Kory Burdick / Northern State Athletics
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Northern State football coach Mike Schmidt was scouting the 23rd-ranked Minnesota Duluth football team earlier this week and what he saw from last Saturday about jumped off his screen as the Bulldogs trounced then No. 17 Augustana 41-15.

“The film from last week says we’re coming into a hornet’s nest,” Schmidt said of the Wolves’ upcoming matchup with UMD, a 1:05 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, contest at Malosky Stadium. “The team we saw on film was playing with a lot of confidence, and certainly looked reinvigorated. These last two weeks they really look like a whole new team coming off that Bemidji loss, so whatever they’ve done has been really good to get their energy up. The demeanor with how they’re playing is probably the biggest change we’ve seen in the film.”

Yes, blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter will do that to a team, especially a good team like UMD (8-2), as was the case with what the Bulldogs squandered against Bemidji State three weeks ago in Duluth.

Northern State (7-3) comes into Saturday’s NSIC regular season finale knowing the feeling. The Wolves are enjoying a banner year in Schmidt’s first actual season but fell 36-34 to Bemidji State in Aberdeen, South Dakota, last week after the Beavers erased a 28-22 deficit with 14 points to start the fourth quarter.

Northern State quarterback Hunter Trautman found Ben Noland with a 47-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 remaining, but the Wolves’ two-point conversion attempt was no good.

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“We felt sorry for ourselves for a day, and it was daylight savings time, so we even got an extra hour to feel sorry for ourselves,” Schmidt said, drawing a laugh. “Now we’ve got a chance to bound back and get ready here this week.”

Jokes aside, that one stung.

“We were devastated by the loss here against Bemidji, there’s no doubt about that, but we still have a lot to play for,” said Schmidt, who was announced as Wolves coach in December 2019 but had to wait more than 18 months before getting his first game in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UMD moved up a spot to No. 7 in this week’s Super Region Four rankings that help determine the NCAA Division II playoff field. The Bulldogs are pretty confident with a win they’ll get in.

Northern State was ranked No. 10 in the rankings but dropped out this week. The Wolves are holding on to the outside chance a win Saturday would still get them in.

“Northern State is a much improved football team, and they’re still fighting for a playoff spot, just like we are,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “They’re much more athletic, they play extremely hard and they’re well coached. Whenever you get to Week 11 and you’re still in the mix for a playoff bid, you’ve had a good season.”

Leading the way for the Wolves is Trautman, a senior grad student from St. Francis, Minnesota, who is third in the 14-team NSIC with 3,068 passing yards — good for 307 yards per game — with 33 touchdowns tosses to only seven interceptions.

While UMD returned nine of 15 seniors from last year who took advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19, Northern State didn’t reap the same benefit as other teams in the league.

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“We had a lot of guys who decided to graduate,” Schmidt said. “We had a new coach and COVID and no season last year; there were probably about 20 guys, but I don’t know the exact number. I think we probably had way more (move on) than most of the teams in the league because of the circumstances. We had more turnover than anybody in the league with our older guys, for sure.”

The extra year, however, probably helped the Wolves adjust to the new coaching staff and getting Trautman back was key. The four-year starter has thrown for more than 9,000 yards and 80 touchdowns in his career.

Northern State’s only other losses were a 40-34 setback at Minnesota State-Mankato to open the season Sept. 2 and a 49-42 home loss to Mary Oct. 2, so the program is that close.

After going 8-3 in 2014, the Wolves have been a program consistently in the middle of the pack, going 6-5 the next three seasons before 4-7 in 2018 and 6-5 in 2019.

“It’s a program that is learning how to win,” Schmidt said. “It’s a program that hasn’t had a lot of success. We haven’t been to able to find a way to win those games, but it takes a little time for everybody to kind of catch on to what you do, because you don’t lose those games last Saturday, you lose those games in all your habits and what you do in the preparation leading up to those games. But we’ve had a nice year, a nice turnaround, and that’s what they brought us in here to do.”

And with the new Dacotah Bank Stadium, which opened Sept. 11 and was part of a capital campaign that reportedly raised more than $60 million, with most of it going towards the facility, the future is bright.

“It’s going to take 25 years for any other team in the league to build something like this. It’s remarkable. It’s as good as most FCS facilities,” Schmidt said. “There’s a lot of money in Aberdeen, and they don’t want to spend it somewhere else. They want to do it here. That stadium is the spectacle of the whole region on Saturdays now, so that’s pretty cool to have.

“It’s just amazing, and we have an administration that wants to win. That’s the expectation now, so I better win, or I won’t be around much longer.”

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NORTHERN STATE AT NO. 23 MINNESOTA DULUTH
What: NSIC football regular-season finale
When: 1:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Malosky Stadium
Records: Northern State 7-3, UMD 8-2
Forecast: Mostly cloudy with a high 35 mph, 5-10 mph wind and 60% chance of snow showers in the afternoon
TV: My9
Internet: nsicnetwork.com/umdbulldogs
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM

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