UMD facing mature challenge from Sioux Falls
University of Sioux Falls football coach Jed Stugart joked his team didn't need to pack razors the last time they played Minnesota Duluth in the 2013 season opener.
University of Sioux Falls football coach Jed Stugart joked his team didn’t need to pack razors the last time they played Minnesota Duluth in the 2013 season opener.
They weren’t old enough to shave.
The teams meet again today, this time in a top-20 showdown in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Stugart’s team hasn’t changed a whole lot since the last meeting, except the Cougars are two years older.
“We were kind of pups rolling into Duluth two years ago,” Stugart said. “It’ll be fun to play them again with a little more experience.”
In that 2013 meeting, the first between the programs, UMD’s defense controlled the game en route to a 32-7 victory, holding Sioux Falls to just 144 yards.
It was the first collegiate start for quarterback Luke Papilion, a true freshman out of Denver, and he had a rough go of it, completing 13 of 27 passes for 108 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception.
Papilion has since blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder threw for 2,779 yards and 26 touchdowns last season while adding 804 rushing yards and six more scores in being named NSIC offensive player of the year.
Papilion threw for 244 yards and a career-best five touchdowns in the Cougars’ 45-21 victory at
Minnesota-Crookston last week.
“When we break down Sioux Falls, they are not deficient in any spot,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “They’re good on both sides of the line, they’re athletically talented on both sides, and they’ve got a quality quarterback who can beat you with his feet or throwing the football. We need to be sound. I think it will come down to two or three plays.”
ated after not making the NCAA Division II playoffs last year despite going 11-1, with the lone loss being a 27-14 setback at Minnesota State-Mankato, the eventual national runner-up. The Cougars returned nine starters on offense and eight on defense from that squad, including All-American cornerback Solomon St. Pierre.
UMD went through the 2014 regular season undefeated, not having to play Mankato or Sioux Falls. This year, the Bulldogs play them both in the first three weeks.
Mankato rallied for a 20-17 victory over UMD in this year’s season opener, meaning a loss today could keep the Bulldogs (1-1) out of NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2007. Sioux Falls (2-0), meanwhile, remains unbeaten after routing Mary 55-7 in its opener.
“I certainly felt Sioux Falls was deserving of a playoff spot last year, but there are only so many spots in our region, and unfortunately, somebody has to sit out,” Wiese said. “This game has strong playoff implications. Our guys know that. Sioux Falls knows that. Our backs are against the wall, and we need to win out. That’s the mentality we have to have.”
Super Region Three consists of four conferences: the NSIC, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, the Great American Conference and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
The region playoffs have expanded from six to seven teams this year, meaning Sioux Falls may have qualified last year. However, the GNAC failed to qualify any teams.
Stugart said the playoff slight has motivated his team throughout the offseason and fall camp.
“There’s a chip on our shoulders,” he said. “It used to be that if you ended up with one loss, and that loss was on the road to the (eventual) national runner-up, you’re still going to make the playoffs. But then you find out you don’t. So obviously, the kids have the feeling where you can’t trust it, so you have to try to figure out a way to win all the games, and that’s tough in a league where you’re playing teams like Duluth, that have that tradition. There is just not a lot of room for error with the region we’re in.”
Stugart felt his team earned its way in instead of the GAC’s Harding, which was 9-1 in the regular season compared to 10-1 for Sioux Falls.
Stugart said the top two criteria used to determine the region playoff field is win-loss record and strength of schedule, and Sioux Falls was better in both. But there is also a human element, and Stugart said politics and opinions got in the way. Two teams from the GAC (Harding and Ouachita Baptist) were chosen rather than three from the NSIC (UMD, Mankato and Sioux Falls).
“Somewhere in the conversation, they decided to take another team out of the GAC, and they took Harding, which really just meant they didn’t want to have three Northern Sun teams in it, but they don’t want to come out and admit that,” Stugart said. “It was frustrating. When the kids hear that and know that, that chip is there, and now they have to try to figure out a way to control their own destiny.”
And that’s winning.
Sioux Falls holds no ill will against Duluth, even if many observers felt the NSIC North Division was weaker last year, giving the Bulldogs an easier path to the playoffs.
“Duluth won the games they needed to,” Stugart said. “They took care of business.”
The Cougars know a win today would certainly prove their mettle, and possibly pave the way for two teams from the South Division to qualify. The Bulldogs, of course, have other ideas.
“We’re older now, we’re more experienced,” Stugart said. “They kind of know what’s at stake, and that makes it a little easier. You don’t have to give as many motivational speeches.”