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Knee injuries hamper UMD football team

Limping across the Malosky Stadium turf on crutches, Minnesota Duluth defensive end Jacob Brusehaver saw head coach Curt Wiese after the Bulldogs' 38-10 NSIC football victory over Bemidji State on Saturday.

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UMD senior running back Austin Sikorski (28) is likely out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against Bemidji State on Saturday. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Limping across the Malosky Stadium turf on crutches, Minnesota Duluth defensive end Jacob Brusehaver saw head coach Curt Wiese after the Bulldogs’ 38-10 NSIC football victory over Bemidji State on Saturday.
Wiese asked about Brusehaver’s injured knee, and the senior captain told him the preliminary indication was that he had torn ligaments. What could Wiese say? What could anybody say?
Brusehaver and UMD senior running back Austin Sikorski are likely out for the rest of the season after suffering knee injuries against Bemidji State, meaning their playing careers are over. The second-ranked Bulldogs
(8-0) will be without two key players going into Saturday’s NSIC game at
Minnesota-Crookston (0-8) and beyond.
“Whenever you’re dealing with a knee, it’s generally not a great outcome, especially later in the season,” Wiese said. “Walking off the field last week, it was a great feeling to win the football game, but it was bittersweet. To win the game but see two of your seniors who have put so much into your program, and meant so much to all of us, get carted off the field, it was a tough one to swallow.”
Brusehaver, a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder from Hutchinson, Minn., was in his second year as a starter at defensive end in UMD’s 3-4 scheme. He was consistent, steady and reliable. He had 15 tackles this fall, including three for loss.
Sikorski had one of the greatest careers in the history of the program. He finished with 44 career touchdowns and 3,216 rushing yards. He was just 13 yards shy of overtaking Dave Rufledt for second place on UMD’s career rushing chart.
“Austin is one of the best backs to ever come through the program, so obviously, it’s a huge loss,” UMD junior running back Logan Lauters said. “We’ve always pushed each other to get better, and that made our football team better. He helped our ground game go.”
Sikorski, of Plover, Wis., dealt with injuries on a yearly basis since high school, but he nearly played a full season last year, leading the Bulldogs with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
Sikorski was named the 2014 NSIC North Division preseason offensive player of the year but started slowly after suffering a stab wound to his abdomen after an altercation in downtown Duluth in early August. Two months later, it was as if he had never been hurt.
Sikorski is third on the team with 480 rushing yards and second with seven touchdowns this season.
“You have to feel for the guy,” Lauters said. “It’s ridiculous when you look at how many things Austin has had to deal with, and he bounced back from all of it. It was pretty amazing, actually. He’s a really special football player.”
Besides Brusehaver and Sikorski, safety Tyler Smrcina has been cleared for action, while do-it-all senior Aaron Roth had the cast on his left hand removed before the Bemidji State game.
UMD wide receiver Justin Fowlkes (hamstring) and cornerback Daryl Brown (shoulder) are questionable this week.
“It’ll be great when we get Daryl back,” UMD junior cornerback Darion Fletcher said. “I just feel like when we have me and Daryl out on those edges, you can’t really beat it, to be honest.”
UMD has taken a next-man-up mentality.
UMD will tighten up its defensive line rotation, going from eight to seven, with those players simply taking a few more snaps. Nick Thorpe, a 6-5, 245-pound redshirt freshman from Cold Spring, Minn., moves into a starting role.
Lauters, meanwhile, could expect a heavier rushing load and will be backed up by sophomore Caleb Belknap, who has looked good in mop-up duty. Receivers Roth and Beau Bofferding could see increased time in the backfield.
Season-ending injuries only go up, never down, so UMD is fortunate those are the only two among regulars this fall.
“We’ve been lucky,” Wiese said. “It’s tough to see happen. It’s a tough thing mentally and physically for those guys to deal with, and it takes a while to settle in. Unfortunately, injuries are part of athletics. Austin faced a lot of challenges in his career, and Jacob has been a great captain for us, but like I told both those guys, they should hold their heads up high. They’ve had phenomenal football careers here, and honestly, we’re fortunate we had them play for us as long as they did.”
r Roth is the featured guest on this week’s NSIC Radio Spotlight, available at northernsun.org or prior to Saturday’s game on KQDS-AM 1490.

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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