Saturday held a heartbreak for the Dickinson State University community after the Blue Hawks football team’s winning streak ended after nine straight victories when they fell in their first round match of the NAIA Championship against Northwestern College 31-7.
A long layoff may have played part in the defeat as the tournament start came nearly six months from DSU’s final game of the season in October. Despite the hardships and extended wait, Head Coach Pete Stanton said the team fought the good fight and played relatively well despite the score.
“I think you saw it on both sides. It almost had that opening game feel, particularly the way we tackled for a while,” Stanton said. “We played hard and we played against a very good team.”
Though both teams showed themselves to be strong defensively from the beginning, the Red Raiders’ Quarterback Tyson Kooima got the show on the road quickly with a rushing touchdown on the team’s second offensive drive.
The second quarter brought more troubles for the Blue Hawks when Northwestern again found success with freshman running back Konner McQuillan. Not one to lay idly on their laurels, the undefeated DSU squad gained some momentum behind quarterback Drew Boedecker who connected on a deep pass over the middle to senior wide receiver Jaret Lee — doing so with consistent pressure from the Raiders’ front four.
Northwestern would extend the lead with three more points on a short field goal, leaving 3 minutes left in the half.
“We had a good start and then we gave up the one big play in the first half, but I think our guys battled back well. I thought at the end of the first half we had a chance to get it to one score and that really was the key. We didn't get it in there and second half things got away from us,” Coach Stanton said. “When you go against a big team like this you can't have those turnovers and unfortunately we had a few and they converted them.”
The Blue Hawk went into the half knowing they needed to turn things around and control the tempo, but those hopes were dashed quickly into the third quarter when they allowed a clutch offensive possession slip following incomplete passes and a wall of rushing defenders. An interception all but stopped momentum as Northwestern College seized the opportunity.
The Raiders’ took advantage of some lapse in concentration on DSU’s offensive side, capitalizing and increasing their lead by 14 additional points. Silence fell on the DSU sidelines when a touchdown pass from Kooima to Shane Solberg sealed the deal.
“(Northwestern) are a really explosive team. They got maybe the top Quarterback in the country and one of the top receivers and they made us pay on the other end,” Stanton said. “Nothing was a lack of effort on either side of the ball.They just made the plays and converted on our mistakes.”
Northwestern held a significant time of possession advantage, though both teams played strong defensively.
Red Raiders total offensive yardage surpassed 510 yards while the Blue Hawks managed 227 yards. The secondary of both teams kept pressure, but Northwestern College’s corners and safety accounted for 4 intercepted passes, gaining 41 yards in the process.
“You have to play at a high level. No matter if it's the first game of the year or not, but particularly in the playoffs,” Stanton said. “Mistakes get magnified against good teams in the playoffs and they are a veteran team and they didn't make any mistakes. We did and they made us pay.”
As the only blemish on the DSU team's undefeated record season, the team along with their head coach, Pete Stanton, left the field with their heads held high showing nothing but respect to the Raiders’ team and coaching staff.
“It's just a special team. They are going to look back one day and say, ‘ Hey, we are one of five undefeated teams in the history of our school.’ and what they had to go through playing a fall season going 9-0,” Stanton said. “Hats off to our seniors for sticking with it. A Lot of other teams, seniors didn't come back and play and ours did and we are just really proud of them and the loyalty they showed to our program. It just says a lot about those guys and we are just going to miss them.”
Stanton added, “They are great players, but even better people.”