Third time's a charm? DSU travels to third-straight NAIA first-round playoff game
The Dickinson State football team's playoff opponent is undefeated this year and has never lost in the opening round of the NAIA playoffs.
Meanwhile, DSU has lost to Montana Tech in the first round the past two years and are looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2003.
But none of that matters to the Blue Hawks.
When the Blue Hawks face off with Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m., they won't have anything but the game at hand on their minds.
"We're 9-1, they're 10-0, but records don't mean anything at this point," freshman center Drew Heiser said. "We're just going to go play a team we haven't played in a while and do what we got to do."
The two teams last played against each other in 2013 when Dickinson State was part of the Frontier Conference, a matchup in which the Raiders prevailed 66-21.
The Blue Hawks (9-1, 8-0 NSAA) haven't made it past the first round the last two years, a fate that falls on slow starts on both occasions. Last season, they allowed 14 points against Montana Tech in the opening quarter of their 28-21 loss.
"(We have to) come out strong right away and not be satisfied in giving them a 10-play drive," junior defensive back Cain Boschee said. "We want to go out there defensively and get that first three-and-out right away and just limit the big play right away."
That will be easier said than done against the Raiders.
Southern Oregon quarterback Tanner Trosin is ranked number one in NAIA Division in total passing yards with 3,466.
"They want to get the ball downfield and vertically, down to their receivers. They throw a lot of deep balls and you got to go win those battles," head coach Pete Stanton said. "It's what they're going to do. They do it against everybody and they do it early and they do it often."
Sophomore Jordan Suell leads Raider receivers with seven touchdowns and boasts 666 receiving yards on the season. Junior Bronsen Ader and senior Matt Boudreaux have scored four times each for the Raiders, with Ader leading the crew with 828 yards.
"They like to stretch the field a lot," Boschee said. "Their quarterback doesn't really care if it's single coverage, double coverage. He's going to throw it up and just assume that his guy is going to be better than the defensive guy. We need to make sure we're in the right position to stop that."
On the other side of the ball, Dickinson State won't have it any easier. The Raiders lead Division I with 49.5 sacks this season, meaning Blue Hawks sophomore quarterback Hayden Gibson will likely be feeling the pressure.
"Up front, they're just very athletic all around," Heiser said. "They've got a good secondary so we're really going to have to give Hayden time up front so he can make his throws and their defensive line is aggressive so we're going to have to stay on our blocks longer and execute for Karsten."
Every Blue Hawk will have to play their best in order to do what no team has done this season: beat the Raiders.
"We just have to be ourselves. We can't try to react to what they do. We just have to do what we do," Stanton said. "We have to hang on to the ball and secure the ball. We've got to obviously have a mixture there and execute very well and consistently."
While the Blue Hawks are a team of veterans who have seen playoff action before, a few starters, such as Heiser, will be getting their first taste of the post-season.
The Dickinson High product said that with the help his teammates, he isn't feeling pressured or overwhelmed.
"They're not making it sound like a game bigger than what it is," Heiser said. "They're just making it sound like it's a normal game. We have to go out there and perform. We have to play our best game yet this year."