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Blue Hawks host Trojans in final home game

The key to defeating Dakota State (S.D.) is obstructing the passing game. Sophomore wide receiver Mason Leighton has 1,217 receiving yards and has scored 114 points this year, ranking No. 2 in the NAIA in both categories. He averages seven recept...

The key to defeating Dakota State (S.D.) is obstructing the passing game.

Sophomore wide receiver Mason Leighton has 1,217 receiving yards and has scored 114 points this year, ranking No. 2 in the NAIA in both categories.

He averages seven receptions and 121.7 yards per game, but in an earlier home contest against Dickinson State on Sept. 29, Leighton got his hands on the ball six times, combining for 65 yards. If the Blue Hawks can limit him again, they'll have a sure chance of winning in their regular-season finale on Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Biesiot Activities Center.

A big part of inhibiting the pass is putting pressure on the quarterback, something the Blue Hawks didn't do particularly well when they defeated the Trojans 33-27 in September.

"Last time, they had a lot of time to throw the ball," head coach Pete Stanton said. "That's easier said than done, but we have to do a better job of getting some pressure and trying to make the quarterback feel more uncomfortable. Then of course, we have to do a good job of keeping the ball in front of us because they certainly have a couple receivers that can stretch the field and stress you out, so we have to do a good job of keeping those guys in front of us."

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Last week, the Trojans put up 505 yards in the air, compared to only 37 on the ground, and they'll likely do the same this week, as star junior running back Brodie Frederiksen is injured.

"I don't think it makes a difference for us," senior linebacker Jalen Hendrickson said. "We're preparing like they have all their big dogs ready to go."

Also missing from the roster, is junior quarterback Jared Richardson, giving freshman Torren Devericks the starting gig. Devericks played the entire game against Dickinson State earlier in the season, so the Blue Hawks know what to expect from the young gunslinger and his receiving corps.

"We think we'll probably get more pass plays if (Frederiksen) is not around. They do have a couple freshman running backs who have done a nice job filling in for him. Obviously we're going to get some of that," Stanton said. "We expect a plan similar to what we've seen before. They're very efficient (at passing)."

The Trojans put up big numbers every week, averaging 28.9 points per game, but they also allow big numbers, giving up 37.5 points per game. Still, their defense is physical, with the front seven composed of six upperclassmen and a sophomore. Senior defensive end Curt Boeke, who was named the the All-American second team defense in 2017, has 18.5 tackles for a loss this season, third-most in the NAIA.

"Our front guys have got to do a good job of stepping up," Stanton said. "I talk about it all the time, about winning the battle up front, but it's really crucial against this team to withstand and win that battle up front, because that is their strength."

Hughes-Tovar, who also noted Boeke as a big threat, said the key to moving the ball on offense is focusing on earning the next first down.

"Just got to keep getting first downs. That's how you win a game, first downs," Hughes-Tovar said. "Touchdowns will come. You just got to keep giving yourself opportunities to score the ball."

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The defense has proven it can play at a high level even while missing key pieces in senior lineman Mitch Mehrer, junior linebacker Kevin Brown and junior lineman Jeremy Poyer, who will return this week. The offense has not yet needed to answer the same call, but with sophomore receiver Gabe Meschke out for the season and wideouts Seth Moerkerke, Jaret Lee and Randy Ivey all questionable game-day decisions, it might need to this week.

"We expect a couple receivers to get in and go," Stanton said. "It's one of those things where you can't try to save them for another day. There may not be another day. We realized that, and our guys realize that. If they can go, they'll certainly do what they can. We have guys who have taken quality reps all week and over the last couple weeks that are capable and ready to go."

With a win, Dickinson State will clinch the North Star conference crown, but the players are trying to stay focused on their game plan.

"Everyday is getting closer, I'm just counting down the minutes until my last time on the field. It's going to be crazy," senior tight end Adrian Hughes-Tovar said. "I take every day the same. This is my last game, but it's just like the first game, just like the middle games. Every game is the same."

Hughes-Tovar and the 14 other seniors, who have never experienced a loss at home, want to end their career at the BAC with a victory, and if the Blue Hawk faithful show up despite a frigid forecast of 35 degrees, the team is confident they will be cheered on to victory.

"We have the best fans, the best tailgate in the NAIA, I think," Hendrickson said. "I think our senior leadership, every year I've been here, has been tremendous. We're just trying to continue that and keep winning."

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