UMD faces Emporia State in first round of NCAA football playoffs

EMPORIA, Kan. -- The Minnesota Duluth football team flew into Topeka, Kan., on Thursday night but still early enough for the Bulldogs to enjoy temperatures in the 70s.Zach Basseuner took advantage, trading in his travel sweats for a pair of short...

Minnesota Duluth outside linebacker Zach Bassuener (32) puts pressure on Augustana quarterback Trey Heid (2) during a game earlier this season at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. (Clint Austin /

EMPORIA, Kan. - The Minnesota Duluth football team flew into Topeka, Kan., on Thursday night but still early enough for the Bulldogs to enjoy temperatures in the 70s.
Zach Basseuner took advantage, trading in his travel sweats for a pair of shorts after the team checked into its hotel. That’s about as close to a vacation as you’re going to get on this trip.
“It’s 100 percent business when we’re down here,” Basseuner said. “And our goal is to come here and take care of business.”
Fifth-seeded UMD (10-1) will play fourth-seeded Emporia State (10-1) in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at 1 p.m. today at Welch Stadium, a sprawling 7,000 capacity facility that has the appearance of a fort or castle.
It is the Hornets’ first home playoff game since moving to NCAA Division II in 1991, and by Friday afternoon, donors had come forward to cover free tickets for about 650 students.
“It’s cool to be in a different state, and see a different atmosphere,” Basseuner said. “I’m excited to play here. I know there is going to be a lot of fans with this being their first home playoff game here.”
Both teams come in having won 10 straight games.
The Bulldogs like their chances if they can play anywhere close to how they did in the second half last week, when they erased a 27-14 halftime deficit to beat St. Cloud State 48-34 in St. Cloud.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve put together two strong quarters, but hopefully we put together four against Emporia,” Basseuner said. “St. Cloud kind of woke us up. We were down a little bit, but it turned out to be a good game to take us into the playoffs. We went into the locker room at halftime and our leaders got after us a little bit, saying we need to pick it up. ‘Do we want our season to end in
St. Cloud or do we want it to end in Kansas City in the national championship?’ ”
UMD allowed just 65 yards in the second half, basically all on one run. Basseuner (pronounced “bah-ZEEN-er”) had three quarterback sacks in the second half alone and now has a team-leading 11.5 on the season.
Basseuner credited UMD defensive coordinator John Steger and his teammates.
“Coach Steger drew up a couple different blitzes that were hard to pick up and gave St. Cloud some issues,” Basseuner said. “There were a couple times I came in completely free off the edge, and on the other one, St. Cloud was trying to run a screen, but (end) Regis Henke and (linebacker) Beau Bates did a great job of snuffing it out, and the quarterback was stuck with the ball. That left me to take out the quarterback.”
Basseuner compared Emporia sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall to UMD quarterback Drew Bauer, high praise given Bauer is one of the best the Bulldogs have ever had. Both have strong arms and good feet.
“Their wide receivers are their best athletes, so we have to put pressure on the quarterback and keep him from making those plays,” Basseuner said. “It’s going to be an interesting battle.”
After staying in Topeka overnight, the Bulldogs made the hour drive to the Knights Inn in Emporia about noon Friday and had an afternoon practice at Welch Stadium.
It appears the Bulldogs took some good ol’ Minnesota weather with them as Emporia’s high on Friday topped out in the 40s with the wind gusting to more than 20 mph. Almost all the players wore long sleeves and coaches and staff shielded themselves from the wind whenever they could.
Upshaw finalist Bateman out for season
UMD senior left tackle Peter Bateman is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the regular-season finale and will have surgery within a month. He will be replaced today by Trapper Ward.
Bateman is an NFL prospect who was announced Friday as one of eight finalists for the Gene Upshaw NCAA Division II Lineman of the Year Award. After surgery, he will then need six to nine months of rehab, meaning he will miss any Pro Days or, potentially, the NFL draft.
“Obviously, nothing is going to happen this year,” Bateman said.
Bateman is in Emporia with the team this week and when asked about the injury, he was all about the team.
“I’m just one player on a team of a hundred guys,” Bateman said. “Obviously, I want to be out there playing, but my backup is very, very good.”
Bateman, of La Crescent, Minn., started all 50 of his collegiate games until today and was rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle in Division II prior to the season by Hero Sports. Bateman, the first UMD offensive lineman to earn All-NSIC honors four times, allowed just one quarterback sack in his career. He helped the Bulldogs rank second in the nation this season in yards per game at 542.7 and fifth in scoring at 46.8, the best clip in program history.
Former Bulldogs guard Garth Heikkinen is the only UMD lineman to receive the award in 2012. None of that seems to matter to Bateman, who UMD coach Curt Wiese described as the epitome of the word “captain.”
“Every kid dreams of one day playing in the NFL, but at the same, you can’t put all your hopes into that. It shouldn’t be the end of the world if you don’t make it,” Bateman said. “So it’s unfortunate, but I had a good career. The one thing that I didn’t get to accomplish is a national championship. That’s probably the biggest disappointment for me, if we go that far this year, I’d still get that ring, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.”

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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