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College football: UMD looks to build off last week’s momentum

Bulldogs close out the regular season with four of five NSIC games on the road.

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Concordia-St. Paul running back Jaylin Richardson stiff-arms a Minnesota State Mankato defender during their game in St. Paul on Oct. 1. The Golden Bears host Minnesota Duluth on Saturday.
Justin Oakman photo
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DULUTH — When Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese addressed his team Sunday, his message was clear: Let’s keep it going.

“Our job is to carry the momentum from last week,” Wiese said of UMD’s 49-14 home rout of Mary. “That was by far our best game of the year, so let’s carry that into this week and continue that the rest of the season.”

That will start at noon Saturday when the Bulldogs (4-2) play Concordia-St. Paul (0-6) in an NSIC North Division contest at Sea Foam Stadium.

UMD isn’t giving up hope on the NCAA Division II playoffs despite its two losses. The Bulldogs were in this position just last year and still qualified for their 12th NCAA postseason, all since 2002.

However, making this run just a little more challenging is UMD’s remaining schedule, as the Bulldogs close with four of five games on the road. Next week they’ve got North Division rival Bemidji State (4-2), Nov. 5 they’re at No. 24 Augustana (5-1) and the regular season culminates Nov. 12 at Northern State (3-3).

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Cyrus McClure of Concordia-St. Paul intercepts a pass during a Sept. 1 home game vs. Augustana in St. Paul.
Justin Oakman photo

“It’s a tougher stretch, and it certainly starts on the road with Concordia,” Wiese said. “We have a tough second half here on the road.”

The first half wasn’t much easier, considering UMD’s two losses came on the road at traditional power Minnesota State Mankato, 17-10 Sept. 10, and at NSIC leader Sioux Falls, 34-31 Sept. 24 in a game the Bulldogs knew was for the taking. Sioux Falls (6-0) has climbed to No.14 in the national rankings.

“Mankato, Sioux Falls, Bemidji and Augie, all on the road,” Wiese said. “Our schedule hasn’t been easy this fall, but whether you’re playing at home or away, it’s part of the deal.”

UMD’s secondary shows some swagger

UMD has given up only five passing touchdowns — best in the 14-team NSIC, while intercepting seven passes, which ties for second. In a game where the rules seem to favor the pass more and more, that’s pretty darn good.

“It is,” Wiese said. “This is as confident a group in the secondary as we have had going to get the football, but I think some of that starts with the guys up front putting pressure on the quarterback.”

Dayvia Gbor had his team-leading fourth interception of the season against Mary last week while Rayshion Brumfield had his second and safety Tim Pokornowski of Cloquet had his first.

Led by Drew Hennessey, UMD’s defense sacked Mary quarterbacks seven times. UMD now has 21 sacks on the season, tied for second-best in the league, and the Bulldogs are tops in the league in only allowing 177 passing yards per game.

Conversely, with UMD quarterbacks only throwing one interception all season, the Bulldogs are plus-6 in the pick department.

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“A couple of our interceptions were definitely on forced passes where the ball was thrown up in the air, but our DBs have done a good job going to get the football,” Wiese said. “They’re playing well, they’re playing fast and they’re playing confident.”

As Walljasper’s beard grows, so does his playbook

Kyle Walljasper ran 14 times for career highs of 123 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win over Mary. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound freshman runs with power but also showed good burst on a career-high 51-yard TD run.

“Kyle Walljasper continues to play at a high level,” Wiese said after Saturday’s win. “We need to continue to build his confidence on the field but he’s been a spark for us offensively. “Today he ran the ball really effectively. He’s comfortable behind center and our guys are continuing to rally around him.”

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Kyle Walljasper

Walljasper is second to senior running back Wade Sullivan with 57 carries for 387 yards, good for 6.5 yards per game. He leads the Bulldogs with six rushing touchdowns. Last week he even completed his first pass in six attempts this fall, good for 29 yards.

Wiese said Walljasper as a passing threat will come with time. In the meantime, UMD continues to expand his playbook as he gains experience.

“He’s a guy we probably need to get more opportunities throwing the football in practice and throwing in games,” Wiese said. “Right now, we have Garrett Olson as our starting quarterback and Kyle is kind of a change of pace for us offensively, so that’s the way we’re packaging it but that doesn’t mean he can’t throw the ball.

“We’re going to continue to utilize him in different spots. Kyle is a super serious football player, so it was good to see him today smiling playing football.”

Yes, he was.

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Walljasper might have the biggest beard of any QB in the country, and with reddish color, he’s got a Ryan Fitzpatrick look. Walljasper started growing his burly beard when the COVID pandemic hit, and other than trimming it here and there, he’s kept it growing and growing.

“Yeah, it’s impressive,” Walljasper said, laughing. “I’m only 19 years old, too, so I’ve got a long way to go.”

MINNESOTA DULUTH AT CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL
What: NSIC North Division football game
When: noon Saturday
Where: Sea Foam Stadium, St. Paul
Records: UMD 4-2, Concordia 0-6
St. Paul forecast: mostly cloudy with a high of 52 and 10-15 mph wind
Internet: nsicnetwork.com/cspbears
Radio: KDAL 610 AM & 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@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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