The Dickinson State football season ended with a 55-24 loss to Southern Oregon in the Blue Hawks third-consecutive appearance in the first round of the NAIA playoffs.
Although coaches and players alike wish the season ended differently, it was a season to be proud of nonetheless.
Head coach Pete Stanton and his staff led the Blue Hawks to a 9-1 regular season record and a third-straight North Star Athletic Association conference title. Stanton was voted NSAA coach of the year.
"It's amazing. A lot of guys put in a lot of hard work," senior defensive back Steven Koch said. "Not just within the football team, but everyone involved in the community. The coaches, the booster club, the touchdown club, they do a lot for us. We worked as hard as we could to repay them. Ultimately, the goal for this team is to win playoff games, not just conference championships, but I think winning three in a row is a building block and stepping stone for the program."
Nine games into the season, sophomore quarterback Hayden Gibson broke the record for most passing yards in a season with 2,247. He finished the season with 2,642.
Senior linebacker Thomas Sease, who has played the last two seasons with a broken wrist, broke the school record for career tackles during the final game of the regular season. He concluded his four years at DSU with 317 total tackles and was named defensive player of the year in the NSAA.
The Blue Hawks graduated 14 seniors at the conclusion of the 2017 season, many of which played at DSU for four years, including Skabo and Koch.
"It was a great year. It's hard to say, we didn't win our last game or make a run in the playoffs like we wanted, but it's definitely a step in the right direction," Koch said. "It was the best year of football I've ever had in my life and I'm just thankful I got to share it with all my teammates and coaches and we had as successful a season as we did."
At the conclusion of the regular season, DSU outscored its opponents 390-175.
Here's a look at how they did it.
Thursday, Aug. 24 at the Biesiot Activities Center
Dickinson State 43, Rocky Mountain 28
The Blue Hawks kicked off their season with a win over Frontier Conference team Rocky Mountain College, a team they hadn't beaten since 2010.
Gibson started his sophomore season with a bang, throwing four touchdown passes and running in another in the 43-28 win.
Freshman receiver Tyger Frye, who hails from Billings, Mont., highlighted the depth in the receiver position with two touchdown catches.
"It was a breakout game for him, knowing we could rely on him," Stanton said. "Hayden didn't have any receiver that he had to or needed to throw to. He was going to make the right read and throw to the guy who was open."
Less than a year after breaking his left wrist, Sease broke his right wrist in the game, but the injury didn't end his season.
"Starting off with a team in the Frontier conference and knocking off a pretty dang-good team ... It gave the whole team a confidence boost," senior wide receiver Dylan Skabo said.
Saturday, Sept. 2 at Shelly Ellig Field
Dickinson State 30, Valley City State 21
A three game road trip started in Valley City with a 30-21 win.
In an effort to improve since the last game, DSU started strong, scoring 27 points in the first half. However, the Blue Hawks struggled to play a full game, scoring just three points in the second half. Dickinson State struggled with consistency for the first few weeks of the season.
"We just weren't quite there yet as a team," Stanton said. "We started very well and played very well in that first half and just didn't execute very well in the second half."
A week after breaking his wrist, Sease led the team with nine tackles
Saturday, Sept. 9 at De Valois Stadium
Northwestern (Iowa) 37, Dickinson State 3
Dickinson State's only loss of the season came against Northwestern College, a Great Plains conference team.
Sophomore Cody Johnson's field goal accounted for the Blue Hawks only points in the 37-3 loss, the fewest points DSU has scored in a game since its 48-3 loss to Carroll College (Mont.) in 2013.
"It was a strange game. The score was 37-3 and we had almost 400 yards on offense," Stanton said. "It was one of those games, we're inside the 30 many times and we just didn't convert. Defensively, we knew we needed to get better because we gave up some big plays in that game. Even though the game ended up 37-3, late in the third quarter it was still 12-3. It was a game we never felt we were out of until the last ten minutes."
The Blue Hawks put up 374 offensive yards, not far from Northwestern's 426 yards.
Skabo deemed the loss the most challenging game of the season.
"Traveling 10 plus hours and going in there and being down a couple scores here, that one definitely tested our resolve," he said.
Saturday Sept. 23 at Jerome Berg Field
Dickinson State 52, Mayville State 7
Dickinson State got back to their winning ways against Mayville State following a bye-week.
Gibson threw threw 353 yards and no interceptions.
Junior defensive back Cain Boschee earned three of the Blue Hawks five interceptions.
"I think it was a game where the offense and defense really fed off each other," Stanton said. "We got some interceptions. Cain had a pick-six in that game. The offense was clicking really well and Hayden hit some guys in that game"
Saturday, Sept. 30 at the BAC
Dickinson State 40, Presentation (S.D.) 17
The Blue Hawks highlighted their starting running back, sophomore Karsten Mack Jr., in their 40-17 win over Presentation College.
Mack rushed 161 yards over 28 carries and scored three touchdowns.
"One thing that sticks out in that game is the physicality of our offensive line and of Karsten," Stanton said. "We were really physical with Presentation and we ran the ball very well in that game and defensively we were a lot more consistent and we were able to pull away in that game."
Saturday, Oct. 7 at the BAC
Dickinson State 35, Valley City State 20
While the score made it seem like a similar game to the first time the teams met in the 2017 campaign, the Blue Hawks outplayed the Vikings in the second showing.
Gibson threw four touchdown passes, two to junior receiver Randy Ivey and two to Skabo.
The defense sacked Viking quarterback Jalen Pfeifer four times.
"It's just one of those game, even though it was close at times, I felt we were in control of the game," Stanton said. "We were in pretty good shape in the third quarter and then they cut it to an eight point game and we'd get out to a two score lead. The scores were similar, but we felt a lot better the second time around that we kept them at bay."
Saturday, Oct. 14 at the BAC
Dickinson State 45, Waldorf (Iowa) 0
For their homecoming game, the Blue Hawks earned their only shutout of the season with a 45-0 win over Waldorf University.
"In that game, we were as ready to go on both sides of the ball as we were in any of the regular season games," Stanton said. "Really from the opening kickoff we had Waldorf on their heels and played well defensively."
Mack scored three touchdowns with rushes of 9, 23 and 25 yards, and junior running back Deonte Dixon scored one on the ground too.
Saturday, Oct. 21 at Rollie Greeno Field
Dickinson State 44, University of Jamestown 13
Senior receiver Seth Ewoniuk led Dickinson State to a 44-13 victory over the University of Jamestown with 135 receiving yards over six catches and one touchdown.
"Seth has been tremendous all year long. He gave us so many big plays," Stanton said. "He has a knack for getting open and finding that crease to get open, not only catching the ball but running the ball. He was really good all year long."
Junior linebacker Elijah Staton, a transfer from Los Angeles Valley College, led the team with 12 tackles.
"Elijah had really started coming into his own a few games before Jamestown, but had a lot of tackles there," Stanton said. "He really became one of our leaders on defense."
Saturday, Oct. 28 at Trojan Field
Dickinson State 28, Dakota State (S.D.) 25
Dickinson State's 28-25 win over Dakota State was its closest margin of victory on the season. With the win, the Blue Hawks earned the NSAA crown.
Additionally, Gibson broke the DSU record for passing yards in a season, a record his coach, Nick Walker, previously held.
"Hayden just did a good job with what they defense gave him," Stanton said. "He did a good job of getting the ball out quickly, in the RPO game and just trusting his read and not worrying about who the receiver was and just getting the ball to the right person."
Saturday, Nov. 11 at the BAC
Dickinson State 70, Mayville State 7
The Blue Hawks ended the regular season with a 70-7 win over Mayville State. Early in the game, Sease earned the most career tackles by a Blue Hawk.
"There were several things in that game that were big. Tommy setting the all-time tackle record was huge, especially doing it with being injured all year long. It says a lot about him," Stanton said. "There's been a ton of good players at Dickinson state over the years and for him to set the all-time record it was a special thing."
Gibson, who threw four touchdown passes for the third time that year, needed one more to tie the record for most scoring passes in a game, but was taken out late in the first half.
A field goal would have broken a Blue Hawks record for most points scored in a game, which still stands at 72.
Saturday, Nov. 18 at Raider Stadium
Southern Oregon 55, Dickinson State 24
For the third-straight season, the Blue Hawks traveled to the NAIA playoffs, but their season ended in a 55-24 loss to Southern Oregon.
"They got off to a fast start right away, which is what we didn't want to happen," Koch said. "We fought back with them, we were within a couple scores. They ended up executing their game plan better than we did. Against a top team like that, I think we had about five turnovers, and you can't make mistakes. You got to get off the field on third down and you got to force turnovers."