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Blue Hawks ready to start 'playoff' run

Let the Dakota Athletic Conference playoffs begin. Well, not really. But sort of. Dickinson State, Black Hills State, Minot State and South Dakota Mines all go into the final four weeks of the regular season with 4-0 conference records and only h...

DSU's Jamie Walker in pursuit
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Dickinson State senior nose tackle Jamie Walker, left, pursues Jamestown College quarterback Mike Beehler during a Dakota Athletic Conference football game on Sept. 25 at the Badlands Activities Center. The No. 9-ranked Blue Hawks are one of four teams with 4-0 records in the DAC and face them all in the next three weeks, beginning Saturday afternoon when Black Hills State comes to the BAC.

Let the Dakota Athletic Conference playoffs begin.

Well, not really. But sort of.

Dickinson State, Black Hills State, Minot State and South Dakota Mines all go into the final four weeks of the regular season with 4-0 conference records and only have each other remaining on their schedules.

"It's obviously an interesting scenario," South Dakota Mines head coach Dan Kratzer said.

The chase for the DAC championship begins Saturday when Black Hills State visits Dickinson State and Minot State hosts South Dakota Mines.

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Dickinson State head coach Hank Biesiot said the goal this week has been trying to keep his team focused on Saturday and its final home game of the regular season.

"The focus has to be Hills," Biesiot said. "The next three games are all going to be the same, so you can't jump ahead."

The Blue Hawks are the lone unbeaten of the group at 6-0 and enter the game ranked ninth in the NAIA coaches poll, their highest ranking in more than five years.

Nevertheless, neither DSU's record nor its ranking seem to bother its opponents.

"I think our conference this year is just really even, even though four have separated from the other four, everybody plays everybody tough," Black Hills State head coach Jay Long said. "Going into this last four-game stretch, we know every game is going for a potential shot at being the DAC champs."

With its final two games on the road before the DAC Jamboree, the Blue Hawks may have the most treacherous road of all the teams.

If they can get by Black Hills State -- a team that has won five straight after dropping its season opener -- they hit the road to face one of the most surprising teams in the NAIA next week: South Dakota Mines.

After finishing the past two seasons 5-5, the Hardrockers are 5-1 overall and are ranked No. 15 in the latest coaches poll. Their only loss came against Colorado Mines, currently the top team in the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

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South Dakota Mines gets its toughest test since that loss when it goes to Minot State on Saturday. A win would assure the Hardrockers their first season with a record above .500 since 1985.

"It's taken us a long time to get to the point we're at now and we don't want to be distracted by anything that's around the corner that we have no control of," Kratzer said.

Minot State, meanwhile, appears to have righted the ship after starting its season with back-to-back losses and have a 4-2 record.

Both Minot State and South Dakota Mines have two home games leading up to the season-ending DAC Jamboree on Nov. 7 at the Fargodome.

Biesiot, a 35-year veteran head coach, said every all three teams pose different challenges to DSU, and added that he believes all of them are capable of winning the DAC championship.

"It should be some real close ball games, I think," Biesiot said. "Right now, you still can't pick a favorite out in our conference."

DAC Final Four

Four Dakota Athletic Conference teams enter this weekend with 4-0 records in conference play, meaning they'll only play each other for the remainder of the regular season.

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Games Saturday

Black Hills State (5-1) at No. 9 Dickinson State (6-0), 1:30 p.m.

No. 15 South Dakota Mines (5-1) at Minot State (4-2), 12:30 p.m.

Games Saturday, Oct. 23

Dickinson State at South Dakota Mines, 1 p.m.

Minot State at Black Hills State, 1 p.m.

Games Saturday, Oct. 30

Dickinson State at Minot State, 12:30 p.m.

Black Hills State at South Dakota Mines, 1 p.m.

Games Sunday, Nov. 7 (times TBD)

No. 1 vs. No. 4

No. 2 vs. No. 3

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