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Blue Hawks need to shut down Leighton, Fredrikson at Dakota State

Forget that Dakota State is 1-4, that doesn't matter. For the past few years, the Trojans have served as some of the stiffest competition the Dickinson State football team sees all season and despite a lackluster start to the 2018 campaign, they'...

Forget that Dakota State is 1-4, that doesn't matter.

For the past few years, the Trojans have served as some of the stiffest competition the Dickinson State football team sees all season and despite a lackluster start to the 2018 campaign, they'll still show the Blue Hawks their best.

"We don't look at that at all," head coach Pete Stanton said of the Trojans' record. "As soon as you do that and you try to let your guard down, if you ever get into score comparing, you're not going to be around very long as a successful program. That's one of the things they really stress to our guys."

The Trojans, who are averaging 458 yards of offense a game, have two of the most talented offensive weapons in the entire NAIA. Sophomore receiver Mason Leighton is No. 1 in scoring with 11 touchdowns. He's also ranked third in the league with 37 receptions.

"He's very explosive, very good in the middle field," Stanton said. "They run some formations where they do a good job of getting him matched up against your safety and having about half the field to work to get leverage on that safety. He does a good job of it. ... They just get him isolated in some situations where it makes it very tough on the defense."

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With the departure of receiver Austin Opdahl, Leighton has become the star for the Trojans. He accounts for 80 percent of the Trojan's 14 passing touchdowns. If the Blue Hawks can shut him out, or at the least make him uncomfortable, it'll nearly eliminate the Dakota State receiving threat.

In charge of that tall task will be senior defensive back Jay Liggins. Last week against Presentation College, he kept the Saints' best wideout at bay, scaring off throws and intercepting one of the two that came his way. When Leighton is matched against the safety, then the responsibility will fall to safeties Cain Boschee and Derick VandeBossche.

However, if the Blue Hawks damper the passing game, the Trojans can look to running back Brodie Frederiksen, who is No. 1 in total rushing with 859 yards on the ground. Stanton said the 5-foot-8, 190-pound junior could be the best back the Blue Hawks see all year.

"Same as usual, getting them into third-and-long situations," Liggins said of the defensive game plan. "That's always nice when they have a lot more field to work with. It's hard for coaches to come up with plays with that distance. Then, swarming to the ball. He's a tough back, he's hard to bring down. He's explosive. So if we get all 11 heads to the ball, I'm sure we'll have no problem slowing him down. As far as our secondary, trust what we do, trust in each other, don't let anything behind us."

After the Trojans graduated Jacob Giles, who holds nearly every school passing record in the book, they have two less-experienced quarterbacks leading the offense this fall. While junior Jared Richardson started the first three games under center, freshman Torren Devericks will get the nod on Saturday.

"When we played them the last couple years, their quarterback placement is so tremendous, they got into such a good rhythm," Stanton said. "And right now they're working through two guys that are very capable. We know we're going to have to be on top of our game down there."

Stanton said the key to a win is starting strong, especially keeping in mind that last year an 80-yard pass to Opdahl put the Trojans (1-4, 0-1 NSAA) ahead on the first play. The Blue Hawks came away with the 28-25 win, but obviously don't want to allow a big play like that, at any time during the game let alone right away.

The Dickinson State defense should be up for the challenge, as the group is allowing just 9.5 points per game, good for third-fewest in the NAIA.

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The Blue Hawks (3-1, 1-0 NSAA) aren't looking to switch anything up on offense, as the team is averaging 440 yards per game, with an emphasis on a balanced attack.

"We have some good skill players, but one, our offensive line has been very, very good and the second thing is, Hayden (Gibson) has been very good at quarterback. He's just done a good job of understanding where the ball needs to get to."

Senior tight end Jordan Walker also credited the men up front for Dickinson State's offensive success and noted they'll be needed against the Trojan defensive line.

"They're a big group, they're D-line is a pretty salty group," Walker said. "Pretty aggressive, they like to play downhill, downhill fast. Obviously, last year they returned a lot of guys that were pretty big for them last year."

Expected to finish second in the conference, according to the North Star preseason poll, the Trojans are more capable than their record lets on and always make it difficult for Dickinson State whenever traveling to Madison, S.D.

"Everytime we go down to Dakota State, it's a shootout down there," Walker said. "They're the only grass field we play on all year, so that's a little bit different. They compete well at home. They're a good team, they have been. The past three or four years, they've always been one of our top competitors. I think they play us well and in that environment they really bring the intensity."

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