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This is the week that football officially takes over our consciousness. High schools have been at it already, and colleges just opened last week, while this week, our local tandem of UMD and St. Scholastica both start their schedules this week.
UMD, in fact, opens Thursday night, and you may not be seeing this edition of the Reader until Thursday. But if you hustle, you can get up to Malosky Stadium and get in to see this year’s version of the UMD Bulldogs when they face Minot. The Bulldogs are one of the favorites in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference once again, and seem primed and ready to continue their annual run of North half NSIC Division II championships.
St. Scholastica, with a new coach and some holes to fill, also opens this week., The Saints don’t open until Saturday, when they, too, will play at Malosky Stadium at noon.
Of course, if we’re properly sophisticated these days, we know that “football” doesn’t only refer to the huddle-snap-run or pass-tackle sport we all grew up with. Soccer has already gotten underway and makes football seem the more appropriate definition, since everything is kicked, while in North American football kicking is almost a lost art.
St. Scholastica’s women’s team had a tough opening weekend, but took on a couple of Wisconsin state college league, a high-powered Division III loop. The Saints opened on the road with a stinging 7-1 loss against Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Then they came home to play Wisconsin-Whitewater and dropped a 4-1 game.
The Saints fell behind 2-0 in the first half, but surprised Whitewater with a strong attack early in the second half, and when a shot by Hunter Zamzow was blocked, senior Emily Olson booted in the rebound from near the right post to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Whitewater regained its edge when Anna Boyd scored, and Savannah Curtis scored her second of the game with 30 seconds remaining to set the final score.
But the focus switches to Malosky Stadium Thursday and Saturday.
UMD coach Curt Wiese has 14 seniors back, with 17 juniors and 21 sophomores, plus 18 redshirt freshmen who will get their first taste of action against Minot. The Bulldogs hammered Minot 49-3 last year in their opener at Minot. Wade Sullivan ran for 96 yards on only five carries, and junior quarterback John Larson threw for 133 yards, although he didn’t throw for any touchdowns. The Bulldogs went undefeated all season, winning a share of the NSIC championship with MSU-Mankato of the South division.
Larson is back for his senior year, and should have the added support of new offensive coordinator Chase Vogler, who was hired for this season and Larson’s four-year career has shown a distinct similarity to the style and field generalship of Vogler, who was a four-year standout at UMD.
The Bulldogs have never really slowed down, and rolled to their 11th consecutive North Division title in NSIC play last season.
The UMAC is a Division III league, and St. Scholastica will start its quest to return to the top of UMAC football under new coach Mike Heffernan when they take on Mayville (N.D.) State at noon Saturday. Public Schools Stadium, where the Saints normally play, is undergoing some construction while the track is installed, so the Saints shifted their game to Malosky.
Heffernan will put his own style on display, but chances are he will stick with the tried and true throwing arm of Zach Edwards, a two-time first team All-UMAC quarterback who returns for his senior season. Heffernan was offensive coordinator on last year’s team, which topped the 3,000-yard plateau for the first time, and averaged 414.8 yards per game.
In UMD’s opener, Larson will run a varied offense that usually is a run-first plan, but he is not only capable of being the team’s top rusher, he also is capable of throwing a lot of passes. Chances are that if the running game works as designed against Minot, Larson won’t pass as often.
In that case, fans who like to see a lot of passing will have to show up Saturday when Edwards and the Saints can be guaranteed to fail the air with passes.
the University of Minnesota was one of numerous Big Ten teams that were huge favorites in opening play last week, but the Gophers might still have a lump in their throats after narrowly averting an upset with a 28-21 victory over South Dakota State last Thursday in Minneapolis.
The Gophers got a break when Winston DeLattiboudere recovered a fumbled handoff at the Jackrabbit 34 yard line in the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-20 at the time, the recovery gave new life to the Gophers, and Mohamed Ibrahim plunged into the end zone with 5:39 remaining to lift Minnesota to the victory.
An even bigger break came when South Dakota State punctuated the most exciting portion of the game with a 60-plus-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. As the Jackrabbits celebrated taking the lead, the officials talked it over and ruled there was a penalty on the play. That nullified the touchdown, but South Dakota State came back and outplayed the Gophers to take a 21-20 lead. The nullified touchdown, it turned out, might have put the Jackrabbits on top to stay.
A highlight of the game for Minnesota came when slphomore Rashod Bateman raced up the left sideline, and when Tanner Morgan’s pass appeared to be just out of his reach, Bateman lunged and got his left hand on the ball, tipping it up just enough so he could take another stride and gather it in for a 42-yard touchdown pass. Bateman caught five passes for 132 yards.
There were some other outstanding major college games last weekend, with the best probably being Boise State shocking Florida State 36-31, at Florida State. Trailing by 18 in the second quarter, and 31-19 at halftime, Boise State came back to blank the Seminoles through the second half while scoring a touchdown in the third quarter and a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth. Hank Bachmeier, a true freshman, threw for 407 yards, completing 30 of 51 passes in the game, which was moved from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to avoid Hurricane Dorian.
Southern California held off rallying Fresno State for a 31-23 victory in the Los Angeles Coliseum that was an interesting finish. Fresno State was 18 points behind after three quarters but got a field goal and then a touchdown to close it to 31-23, and a touchdown pass with 1:45 remaining was intercepted by the Trojans.
While it was a narrow escape for USC, it is this week’s cause for concern for P.J. Fleck and his University of Minnesota, because the Gophers play at Fresno State at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
It is time to pick the order of finish in the North Division of the National Football League. One year ago, while everybody was trying to decide between Green Bay and Minnesota, I wrote a bold prediction that the Chicago Bears would win the division. Cynics were everywhere, but I stuck to my guns all season, strictly because Mitchell Trubisky appeared to me to be the real deal — a young quarterback who can control the pace, throw passes, run when necessary, and function at his best when confronted with a broken play.
Line up the Central Division, and I think you have Trubisky and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers tied at the top as the best quarterback in the division. Newly wealthy Kirk Cousins of the Vikings and veteran Matt Stafford of Detroit are about tied for the third spot.
As I calculate the division, the Bears rank first, because they have a newly volatile offense, and the best defense in the division, plus Trubisky. The Vikings and the Packers rank tied for second because Rodgers gives the Packers an edge at QB, but the Vikings, I think, have the edge in defense. Neither team has a kicking game to write home about, but they both should have enough to hold off the always dangerous Detroit Lions.
While looking for some entertainment Thursday night, don’t look beyond the Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears battle. If the Packers beat the Bears, it could throw a different dynamic into the NFC North. But if the Bears beat the Packers, it could be business as usual by the time the Vikings open at home on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Another interesting first-weekend game finds New England taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a promising match. Also, the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that could either be a rout or a nail-biter. I’m choosing the latter.