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Blue Hawks flying high into matchup with Presentation College

Dickinson State have already clinched at least a share of the NSAA conference championship. With a win Saturday, they could make it their own.

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The Blue Hawks celebrate a touchdown in the previous matchup against Presentation College on Oct. 2 at the Henry Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson. (Race Archibald / The Dickinson Press)

Just two games remain in the regular season for the Dickinson State Blue Hawks, having played their final home game of the season last weekend against Mayville State. They’ll make the trip across state lines to the south for a matchup with Presentation College.

GAME INFO

Saturday, Nov. 6 - Dickinson State Blue Hawks (6-0, 6-2) @ Presentation College Saints (0-6, 0-9), Swisher Field, Aberdeen, SD, 12:00 p.m. MST.

LAST TIME OUT

DSU played their final home game against Mayville State with a similar result to their first matchup on Sept. 18 . The Blue Hawks held a sizable 22-0 lead at halftime, but only mustered up one score in the first quarter, a 9-yard touchdown on the ground from running back Alec Lovegren.

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Quarterback Drew Boedecker added two touchdowns through the air in the second quarter, one a piece to wide receivers Conor McCarvel and Tyger Frye.

DSU continued their barrage in the second half with four more touchdowns, including an 88-yard punt return by junior Isaiah Kludt, his first of the year.

Boedecker finished with 284 yards passing and four touchdowns on just 15 completions. It was the third time this season he has thrown for at least four touchdowns in a game.

Running back Riley Linder had his best rushing game to date, posting a season-high 87 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Braden Zuroff added 49 yards.

It was McCarvel’s time to shine in the wide receiver group this time around, posting a team and season-high 110 yards with two touchdowns, earning offensive player of the week honors in the NSAA.

Kludt also earned player of the week honors on special teams for his punt-return score, the second time he earned the honor this year. The Blue Hawks have had at least one player represented in the weekly edition of the award in each of the past five weeks.

DSU is averaging 41 points and 439 yards per game, both top 20 in the country. Their red zone production has been a highlight all year, scoring on 89 percent of their trips to that part of the field. On defense they have allowed 16 points per game. That number has fallen to just 10 points in conference play.

Their win, paired with Waldorf’s loss to Valley City State guaranteed DSU at least a share of the NSAA championship, with a two game lead in the conference with two games to go. A win on Saturday would secure an outright conference title, which would be their seventh in a row.

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They also jumped up to 20th in the NAIA Top 25 poll, moving up four spots from 24th. In order to earn an automatic bid in the NAIA playoffs, a conference champions must be ranked inside the top 20.

THIS WEEKS OPPONENT

The Saints are the only winless team in the conference. In the three games since they last played DSU on Oct. 2, Presentation College has been outscored 114-47. On the season they are scoring just 14 points per game.

The last matchup between these two resulted in a blowout victory for the Blue Hawks, hanging 70 points on the Saints. It’s been a struggle for Presentation College, who haven’t won a game since Nov. 2, 2019. They’re on a 20-game losing streak since then.

If there is a lone bright spot for the Saints, it has to be senior running back Innocent Okoh, who has compiled an impressive season despite the team's severe struggles. He’s churned out 754 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns. The second team all-conference selection from a year ago is well on his way towards another all-conference selection.

But outside of him, the production is severely lacking. The quarterback position has been a revolving door, with three different players lining up under center.

Senior Mike McPeek began the season as the starter, but was replaced by junior Tim Evitt in their third game of the season. He held the position for a few games before being replaced by senior Hunter Giffrow, who the Blue Hawks saw in their last matchup.

But then Giffrow got hurt against Valley City State on Oct. 9 and was replaced by McPeek. However, he wouldn’t retain the starting role with Giffrow sidelined the next week. Evitt reclaimed the starting job on Oct. 16 against Mayville State and had 276 yards and one touchdown.

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Against Iowa Wesleyan last week on Oct. 30, Evitt started the game and struggled, leading to Giffrow relieving Evitt of his duties to finish the game.

It’s anyone's guess who will get the start on Saturday, but it appears Giffrow has the inside track after coming into the game last week. None of the quarterbacks have impressed all year, throwing a combined seven touchdowns to 19 interceptions.

Their leading receiver is sophomore wide receiver Cameron Sheppard, who has 29 receptions for 434 yards and two touchdowns.

SERIES HISTORY

DSU have won all ten matchups in the series, which began in 2014. The 70-14 win on Oct. 2 was the most points they have scored in the series, but only the second largest margin of victory. That came on Sept. 22, 2018 in a 59-0 victory at home.

FROM DSU HEAD COACH PETE STANTON

On the chance to win an outright conference championship - "That's been the theme this week is to play at a high level. To practice and play at a playoff level and go win another conference championship. We have that right in front of us. Week by week we've talked about being 1-0 and we're now to that week where we can go win this thing."

On the importance of maintaining Top 20 position - "We've known since week two the playoffs have started. We didn't talk about that but everybody was fully aware of it. We have a bunch of guys in the program that know what's going on, they're intelligent guys and know we need to win out and not look ahead to anybody else and doing it one game at a time."

On having playmakers in all three phases of the game - "We've had different guys step up. Ultimately it's still a team game. If you play a good team game, then you'll have individuals that will show up with good stats. Sometimes you have someone that has a lot of interceptions, or whatever the case may be, it's maybe because of the defensive line did a good job getting pressure. That's just an example of how it's a team game."

KEYS TO THE GAME

Stopping the run - There’s really only one element that has worked for the Saints all year on offense, the ground game led by Okoh. Stopping (or slowing down) that aspect of the offense will be of the utmost importance. Okoh had 77 yards in the last matchup, but was largely ineffective as Presentation College fell behind early.

Familiar territory - A seventh-straight conference title is there for the taking. That should be plenty of motivation when facing a winless team this late in the season. Equally important is maintaining the top 20 position they have for the upcoming playoffs. The Blue Hawks have plenty of experience in this position, as proven by their success in recent years in reaching the playoffs.

Related Topics: FOOTBALLNSAA
Race Archibald is a former sports reporter with The Dickinson Press.
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