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College football: UMD, Minnesota State already dealing with quarterback injuries

Mankato starter out; UMD situation ‘day-to-day’ going into Week 2.

Mitch Randall
Minnesota State-Mankato quarterback Mitch Randall is shown in this file photo from last season. Randall, a sophomore now wearing No. 6 this season, filled in at quarterback last week and is expected to lead the Mavericks into their NSIC showdown Saturday with visiting Minnesota Duluth.
Photo courtesy Minnesota State Athletics/SPX
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DULUTH — Curt Wiese, knowing he had been beat out for the starting quarterback job at Minnesota State-Mankato, decided to transfer to Wisconsin-Stevens Point before the 1998 season.

No great mystery here … Wiese wanted to play.

Wiese understands that situation as well as anybody, and now as Minnesota Duluth’s head football coach, he doesn’t make those decisions lightly, in particular when it comes to quarterback. It’s not like other positions, where you’re rotating linemen and linebackers. With QBs, most teams pick one, and then stick with it.

Wiese, Curt.jpg
Curt Wiese

Or, at least, as long as they can.

Minnesota Duluth goes into its NSIC showdown at 6 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota State-Mankato with some uncertainty under center. Both teams are already on their second quarterbacks after their starters got hurt in last week’s opener.

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The Mavericks will go with Mitch Randall under center as fellow sophomore Hayden Ekern is out after getting injured last week.

Wiese said senior starter Garrett Olson is “day to day.” He said Olson missed practice Wednesday but the Bulldogs hoped he would practice Thursday. If Olson can’t go, backup sophomore Logan Graetz would get the nod.

Randall played sparingly last season for the Mavericks.

“We have four guys (remaining at quarterback), and if we have to use all four of them, then we use all four,” Mavericks coach Todd Hoffner said. “We’re in a tough situation. Hayden obviously was our starter and he did some positive things in that first game. Now we’re down to that next man up kind of deal, so we’re prepping and repping and trying to get ready to play a football game.”

Randall was 10-for-20 passing for 135 yards, with one touchdown and interception. He connected with Jalen Sample from 17 yards with 1:38 remaining to lift Minnesota State to a 37-34 victory at then-No. 22nd ranked Bemidji State, a play Hoffner said the Mavericks were fortunate to complete.

While Hoffner said there was no way Ekern would play this week, UMD appeared to be a little more coy with their QB situation; Hoffner said, no matter.

“If they want to play games and not disclose who’s available and not available, that’s their business,” Hoffner said. “We have to prepare for their system, you know what I mean? They’ve got quarterbacks who do a really nice job, whoever is in the game, whether the young man (Olson), is back or not, they’re both really talented and can do a lot of great things.”

Graetz, meanwhile, entered the game on UMD’s second drive and led the Bulldogs to a 31-21 victory over Southwest Minnesota State in their season opener last week at Malosky Stadium.

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“Quarterback is a tough position when you’re not named the starter to try to lead and command the offense,” Wiese said. “I think our whole team was proud of the way Logan responded to a little adversity through not starting, and then a lot of adversity by being put into the game on the second drive.”

The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Graetz started four games for UMD in 2021 after transferring from North Dakota State. Last week he completed 16 of 24 passes for 230 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“It was hard for Logan not to be named the starter during fall camp,” Wiese said. “He took it hard but in keeping with the character that Logan Graetz is, he took it hard for a day and came back the next day ready to practice and ready to prepare. He proved that with how he played.

“The ‘other’ guy has to be prepared to be able to take over and command, and I personally think the leadership piece of it is hard when you’re the backup quarterback. You’re still expected to lead and you’re still expected to be able to command the huddle, but that’s a tough thing. Your voice is just different; it just is. That’s a challenge with that position, but Logan came in and we didn’t miss a beat.”

Wiese speaks from experience on the topic, for he’s been there, done that. His background at the position, and his personal experience on what it’s like to be passed over for the starting job, resonates in the quarterback room.

While at Mankato, Wiese got beat out by his college roommate before transferring to Stevens Point, where as a senior in 1998 he quarterbacked the Pointers to a share of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.

While aspects of a move like that might be hard to process at the time, sometimes decisions become more clear with time and understanding.

“He had beat me out, and I knew that,” Wiese said. “Looking back on it, he was better than I was in a lot of ways. I definitely didn’t have any hard feelings but wanted an opportunity to start and be able to play somewhere else. That’s why I made the decision to transfer to Stevens Point.”

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McGhee_Alijah_CSP1.JPG
Minnesota State-Mankato's Alijah McGhee had interception and fumble returns for touchdowns as the Mavericks won at Bemidji State last weekend.
Minnesota State Athletics / SPX

MINNESOTA DULUTH AT MINNESOTA STATE-MANKATO
What: NSIC football game
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Blakeslee Stadium, Mankato, Minn.
Records: UMD 1-0, Minnesota State 1-0
Forecast: Cloudy with a high of 68, 33% chance for precipitation and 9-mph wind
TV: My9
Internet: nsicnetwork.com/umdbulldogs
Radio: KTCO 98.9 FM

MINNESOTA DULUTH AT MINNESOTA STATE-MANKATO
National rankings: Neither team is ranked in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 but both are on the cusp, with Minnesota State receiving 53 points and UMD 31. The Mavericks are ranked 21st by D2Football.com.
Series: UMD leads 21-18-1, including a 30-10 victory over the Mavericks’ in the Bulldogs’ home opener last season, snapping a five-game losing streak against Minnesota State dating to 2011.
Coaches: Curt Wiese is 81-18 in nine seasons at UMD, including seven NSIC North Division titles and five NCAA Division II playoff appearances. … Todd Hoffner is 113-27 in 12 seasons at Minnesota State, including six NSIC championships and seven trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Mavericks were a rare 6-5 last season. “You have high expectations every year,” Hoffner said. “Nobody knows if you’re going to go 6-5 or 14-1 — that’s the best and the worst we’ve had. We’ve done both twice and a lot of things in between. You just don’t know how every season is going to go, but we’re going to put our best 11 out there for 165 plays and see what we can do.”
Outlook: Both teams are coming off season-opening victories in which their backup quarterbacks came in after the starters got hurt. … Sophomore Logan Graetz was 16-for-24 passing for 230 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions in leading the Bulldogs to a 31-21 victory over Southwest Minnesota State at Malosky Stadium. Cornerback Dayvia Gbor had two interceptions and lineback Brad Dati had nine tackles, including a quarterback sack, to lead the defense. … Minnesota State is coming off a 37-34 victory at then-No. 22nd ranked Bemidji State. Sophomore Mitch Randall was 10-for-20 passing for 135 yards, with one touchdown and interception. He connected with Jalen Sample from 17 yards with 1:38 remaining to lift Minnesota State to victory. The game featured big plays all over the place, including a 70-yard fumble return and 45-yard interception return, both for touchdowns by Minnesota State’s Alijah McGhee as he earned NSIC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Minnesota State led 30-13 at the half but later had to rally. “It was a really weird game,” Hoffner said. “A lot of crazy stuff, a lot of big special-teams plays, a lot of big defensive plays. If you would have told me that we were going to give up 34 points on defense and win, I would have scratched my head on that one.” But hey, they won. “Oh yeah,” Hoffner said, laughing. “We’ll take it, all things considered, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.” The Mavericks earned not one but two NSIC player of the week nods as Sample earned top offensive honors with six catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune

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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