NSIC's top two teams finally get to meet

One of the drawbacks to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference expanding to 14 teams before the 2008-09 season was that some years the league's top football teams wouldn't play each other.


One of the drawbacks to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference expanding to 14 teams before the 2008-09 season was that some years the league's top football teams wouldn't play each other.

That has been the case all three seasons, with North Division champion Minnesota Duluth not playing the South Division champion in each of the past three years.

That is, until now.

UMD's NCAA Division III quarterfinal matchup with 2010 South Division champion Augustana (Sioux Falls, S.D.) on Saturday will be an added treat for fans who want to see a true champion determined through a head-to-head matchup.

"It's obviously a big game," said Augustana coach Mike Aldrich, who is in his first year as Augie's head coach after four years as the Vikings' defensive coordinator. "Not to mention that it's the third round of the playoffs, with an opportunity to get to the final four and all that, but it's a chance for the NSIC's top two teams to play each other even though they weren't scheduled to during the regular season. It's kind of an unofficial conference championship."


Both teams like to run the ball, and both are stingy at stopping the run, so something will have to give Saturday at Malosky Stadium.

Augustana's only loss this season was a 26-14 setback on Nov. 6 at Wayne (Neb.) State. The Vikings played that game with standout wide receiver Tyler Schulte at quarterback after starter Josh Hanson broke a bone in his throwing hand the week before.

Hanson returned last week to throw three touchdown passes to Schulte while adding 82 rushing yards to lead Augustana to a 38-6 victory over national power Grand Valley State in what Aldrich called the Vikings' best all-around performance of the season.

Augustana (11-1) won the turnover battle 6-0 and blocked two Lakers' field-goal attempts.

"We've had more yards in games, and we've given fewer up, but when you piece it all together, it was our best team performance overall," Aldrich said. "Everyone contributed."

UMD coach Bob Nielson has always been a big fan of a strong running game, especially in a Northern clime where inclement weather can play a factor, especially deep in the playoffs. Augustana appears to have amped up their rushing attack for the postseason.

Senior Joe Clark, a former teammate of UMD standout Isaac Odim at Rochester (Minn.) Century, rushed 16 times for 117 yards and a touchdown as the Vikings rushed 48 times for 268 yards against the Lakers.

"Augustana has a good offense, and if they can get their running game going, they're dangerous. They live off that," said Bulldogs safety Cody Eich. "They like a lot of run-and-gun type stuff, but if we can stop their running game, I think we can control the game. I think that plays into our strength."


UMD (12-0) has held teams to 86 rushing yards per game this season, and last week held a strong St. Cloud rushing attack to just 88 yards on the ground. The Huskies were only 1-for-13 on third-down attempts and lost despite having a 4-0 turnover advantage as the Bulldogs were sound on special teams.

The Bulldogs' offense, meanwhile, is averaging 285.3 yards per game on the ground, fourth-best in the nation. Augustana counters with a senior-dominated defense that has only been allowing 81.1 rushing yards per game, eighth-best in DII.

The X-factor could be UMD quarterback Chase Vogler. Nielson said St. Cloud shut down some of the Bulldogs' "bread and butter" plays along the perimeter last week, but the Huskies had no answer for Vogler's scrambles as the sophomore rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown.

"This game will likely hinge on which team can run the football and have the most success with it," Aldrich said. "Both teams like to run the ball and are No. 1 and 2 in the league at stopping it. Whichever team has the best day running the football is probably going to be the team that comes out on top."

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