Minnesota Duluth senior linebacker Joe Kordus admits he had Texas on his mind this week.
And who could blame him? Unless you're a snowboarder or snowmobiler, winter sucks, and it’s coming as the Bulldogs realized when the temperature dropped this week.
Kordus and Co. should find some solace from their pre-winter blues when UMD (9-2) takes on second-seeded Angelo State (9-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs in San Angelo, Texas.
“I can’t wait,” Kordus said Thursday when Duluth’s high temp only hit about 27 degrees. “I was just thinking all week how nice this game’s going to be in some 70-degree weather. We were definitely in the sweatpants and sweatshirts, the hats underneath the helmets. It was definitely a little windy, a little chilly today.”
UMD prides itself on being northern tough and relishes whenever a southern team plays at Malosky Stadium, which has happened its share. UMD will be making its 12th NCAA Division II playoff appearance Saturday, having previously qualified in 2002, 2005, 2008-14 and '16 and 2018. The Bulldogs are 6-3 in those games at Malosky Stadium.
These UMD football players are tough guys, but they’re humans first.
While they’ll enjoy the warmer clime, Kordus insisted this isn’t vacation. It’s a business trip, and the Bulldogs plan to take care of business Saturday.
“All eyes are on Texas right now and trying to beat San Angelo,” Kordus said. “They’ve got a super-good squad, so we’re going to need all hands on deck to beat them.”
Angelo State features a balanced team with a better running game than UMD is accustomed to seeing in the (mostly) pass-happy NSIC, or at least, it certainly seems that way against the Bulldogs.
Angelo State comes in having outscored opponents by a 37-16 average margin while averaging 443 yards per game, including 214 through the air and 229 on the ground. The Rams have a bruiser in the 5-foot-11, 240-pound running back Nathaniel Omayebu III, who has rushed 170 times for 1,027 and nine touchdowns, but they’ve also got C.J. Odom (107 carries, 598 yards) and Alfred Grear (47/500).
UMD, meanwhile, counters with a rush defense that ranks 14th in NCAA Division II at 88.2 yards per game. It’s a matchup Kordus said the Bulldogs like.
“Stopping the run is our first priority, that’s what we’re going to do,” Kordus said. “If they’re going to try to run the ball on us, I say, ‘Good luck.’”
You can’t blame the 6-foot, 235-pound Kordus for being confident. He’s a good football player.
The fifth-year player from Menasha, Wisconsin, started his collegiate career under former UMD football coach Bob Nielson at the University of South Dakota, a Football Championship Subdivision program in Vermillion, South Dakota.
Kordus played two years at South Dakota, but he was playing inside linebacker, and he wanted to play outside linebacker, the position he played in high school, and with the help of former UMD All-American linebacker Rob Aurich, got hooked up with UMD coach Curt Wiese and the Bulldogs.
Kordus said the move was more than amicable, and Wiese said from the first day Kordus showed up on campus, he fit right in, way more than the typical transfer, where there’s a big feeling-out process.
“Joe has been a team leader since he’s been on campus,” Wiese said. “He shows up to work prepared every day.”
Kordus played in all 11 games in his first season at UMD in 2019, finishing third on the team with 40 tackles, including 29 solos, and was second with seven quarterback sacks. This season he has 29 tackles and three sacks and had a 75-yard interception return for touchdowns two weeks ago against Augustana.
Kordus said transferring to UMD was “easily the best decision of his career,” but then he went a bit further.
“I love Duluth,” he said. “The city, the people, just a great community to be with, especially all the guys. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates, and that’s what it’s all about, the teammates. It’s the best decision I’ve made. I’m 100% proud to be a Bulldog — I’m a Bulldog for life.”
Bulldogs honored by NSIC
Kordus, who earned Second Team all-conference honors, was one of 15 Bulldogs honored by the NSIC earlier this week.
UMD’s First Team selections are senior wide receiver Armani Carmickle (Kenosha, Wisconsin), junior offensive lineman Arik Johnson (Birchwood, Wisconsin), senior offensive lineman Brent Laing (Lakeville, Minnesota), senior running back Cazz Martin (Rochester), sophomore tight end Sam Pitz (Appleton, Wisconsin), senior offensive lineman Jake Zeiler (Naperville, Illinois), junior linebacker Brad Dati (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin), senior defensive back Austin Kurylo (Bristol, Wisconsin) senior defensive lineman Dan Monson (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota) and senior linebackers Cole Refsnider (Roberts, Wisconsin) and Nate Pearson (Lake Nebagamon). Second team selections including Kordus were junior offensive lineman Treyvon Cahalan (Champlin, Minnesota), senior defensive back Michael Kirkendoll (Milwaukee) and junior defensive back Marcus Glodowski (Stevens Point, Wisconsin).
Not so fast
UMD’s travel itinerary called for them to fly out Friday morning and arrive in San Angelo at noon, with practice at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s just like we expected,” Wiese said of reviewing the game tape of the Rams. “It’s a playoff football team. They’re athletic, they’re fast and very aggressive defensively. Offensively, they’re a team that likes to rush the football. They’ve dominated that league by hanging onto the football and playing good defense.”
This year only four teams in the seven-team Super Region Four bracket are listed with their seeds: No. 1 Colorado Mines (10-1), which has a first-round bye, and No. 2 Angelo State (9-2), No. 3 Western Colorado (10-1) and No. 4 Augustana (9-2).
“Part of the intrigue of playing a team across the country is seeing how our talent matches up with theirs,” Wiese said. “It’s hard to tell on film, and you can get kind of surprised either way on game day. But year and year out, the Lone Star Conference has been towards the top of Division II.”
The way the bracket is set up, whoever wins Saturday between UMD and Angelo State will play the winner of Western Colorado and Nebraska-Kearney (9-2).
With that said, if the higher seeds lose Saturday — No. 2 Angelo State and No. 3 Western Colorado — it’s conceivable that UMD could host an NCAA second-round playoff game at Malosky Stadium next week, though nobody is holding their breath.
Wiese is only worried about this week, but he had to admit, “We could only hope.”
NO. 23 MINNESOTA DULUTH AT ANGELO STATE
What: NCAA Division II football playoff opener
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: LeGrand Stadium, San Angelo, Texas
Records: Minnesota Duluth 9-2, Angelo State 9-2
San Angelo forecast: Sunny with a high of 81 and 16 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM