In Northwestern, a new challenge for Blue Hawks
When Dickinson State football takes the field against Northwestern College this Saturday, here is what they will have to draw off of: An all-time record without a win or a loss, a matchup with no stories of a particularly memorable play, and a meeting between two teams without any history at all.
According to a lengthy sweep of the archives by DSU sports information director Jason Watson, plus a confirmation from longtime football coach and unofficial Blue Hawks historian Hank Biesiot, there has never been a football game played between DSU and the school from Orange City, Iowa, in their combined 232-year history.
The game Saturday will bring the all-time series record for the winning team from 0-0 to 1-0.
"I had never heard of them in my life. Never," DSU linebacker Tommy Sease said. "I just know they're on the schedule, and I know they're in a very tough conference. Now I know they're a very good football team."
So, after all these years, why now?
It was good timing more than anything, according to head coach Pete Stanton. Northwestern's conference, the Great Plains Athletic Conference, already had three games scheduled against teams from the North Star Athletic Association this weekend, so the two teams collectively figured, "why not?"
"We both had an open weekend. The GPAC teams were looking for games as were we, and it just worked out that we put together a home and away with them," Stanton said. "We have Dakota Wesleyan playing Jamestown, Briar Cliff playing Dakota State, and Valley State playing Hastings, so it worked well to be a GPAC-against-NSAA weekend."
But just because the Blue Hawks have never personally seen the Red Raiders play doesn't mean they don't the other team's reputation.
Stanton has followed Northwestern in the past, and speaks highly of them. He noted, at least on film, that they are one of the more athletic and physically imposing team's he's seen. They also boast playoff seasons in three of the past four years, and this season return NAIA all-American Sam Van Ginkel, a 6-foot-5 senior defensive linemen.
"We have a lot of respect for their program. Even though we've never played them, we know what kind of team they are," Stanton said. "The GPAC is always a very good conference, particularly their top half, and they've always been in that top half. They're a perennial playoff type of team."
The Blue Hawks have spent the week watching film and trying to figure out the Red Raiders' offense — an unpredictable one with a lot of moving parts — based on their one game this season, a 28-21 loss against Sterling (Kan.) College.
The big problem in the scouting process, beside the obvious obstacle of never having played them, is that the Red Raiders have a new-look coaching staff. The defensive coordinator stepped into the job as head coach, and their offensive coordinator is also new.
"It's difficult for a couple of reasons. They've only played one game. And the team they played plays a lot different schemes then we do. It's hard to get a great read on tape," Stanton said. "The other thing is they've got a new coach. So it's not like we can look at last year's tape and say 'OK, this is what they're going to do.' We really only have one game to pull off of."
In their one game this year, Northwestern quarterback Jonathan Kodama threw the ball 49 times, totaling 327 yards and two touchdowns. They have an unconventional, free-flowing offense, according to Stanton, and like to do things like line a player up at fullback one play and wide receiver the next, all while keeping the tempo up and limiting substitutions, something that can be daunting to understand for defensive players.
In watching film this week Sease, the most recent NSAA Defensive Player of the Week, said he saw formations from their offense that required a double take.
"We've watched the tape all week. And it's been hard because they run on offense that's not really normal for how other offenses are run nowadays," he said. "They throw stuff at you that we normally don't see. It's something we have to get used to and expect on Saturday."