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Dickinson State Blue Hawks football optimistic for playoff seed

Dickinson State head coach Pete Stanton said he needed just one team ranked Nos. 15-20 to lose to feel comfortable about his playoff chances. He got three. And the way things sit now, the No. 21-ranked Blue Hawks are sitting in good shape. With t...

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Austin Brown, right, congratulates Dickinson State teammate Jamion Lindsey after scoring a touchdown during their Nov. 8 game at the Fargodome. (FNS Photo by Dave Wallis)

Dickinson State head coach Pete Stanton said he needed just one team ranked Nos. 15-20 to lose to feel comfortable about his playoff chances.
He got three.
And the way things sit now, the No. 21-ranked Blue Hawks are sitting in good shape.
With their national ranking and a North Star Athletic Association championship in hand, the Blue Hawks just have to move up one spot in the polls to make the playoffs. DSU will find out whether they make it at 3 p.m. today during the NAIA’s selection show available at www.NAIA.org .
“A few things have to happen of course,” Stanton said Thursday. “A couple teams right ahead of us have to most likely lose and then hope nobody jumps over the top of you too.”
Though DSU didn’t play this week, the NAIA had one more week of regular season games. On Saturday, No. 20 Robert Morris (Ill.) University lost 27-7 to No. 23 Saint Ambrose (Iowa) University, No. 19 William Penn (Iowa) University lost 26-14 to No. 3 Grand View (Iowa) University and No. 16 Benedictine (Kan.) College lost 19-17 to unranked Peru State (Neb.) College.
Even though DSU didn’t know if it would be in the playoffs or not, junior defensive end Noey Tauave said not much has changed in practice.
“I feel like nobody is really trying to move ahead of themselves, because last time we talked about playoffs, we ended up losing,” Tauave said. “So we’re trying to learn from that mistake. So going to practice every week is like a learning process, but we grind hard at the same time.”
The Blue Hawks had defeated last year’s champion Valley City State, ranked No. 15 time at the time in September and climbed up to a No. 24 ranking after defeating Waldorf (Iowa) College 31-14.
Then DSU fell out of the rankings with a 54-21 defeat at the hands of Dakota (S.D.) State, but the Blue Hawks rebounded with a 40-2 win over Mayville State for the NSAA championship then a 49-30 win over Dakota State in the NSAA Bowl on Nov. 8 in the Fargodome.
“We’re just happy with the way we finished. To lose at Dakota State and get beat down there pretty handily and then to come back two weeks later and beat Mayville for a conference championship,” Stanton said, “we’re just happy with the season that we’ve had. Whatever happens here, we’ll just continue to build on. Having an 8-2 year and a conference championship is exciting.”
Though hoping for the best, junior safety Robert Nalewaja - who is tied for second in the nation with six interceptions - doesn’t rule out the possibility that the season is done.
And looking back, Nalewaja thinks pretty fondly of how his team performed.
“At the beginning of the season, we brought in a lot of new kids, and we just became really good friends and a good unit defensively and offensively,” Nalewaja said. “We just got better every week and showed signs of huge improvement just in the chemistry of the team.”
Nalewaja and opposite starting safety Awa Poggi, along with many other players, sat out of this week’s practices with injuries. Those two safety injuries have led junior Robert Sterling - who spent most of his time at quarterback thus far - to spend most of his time this week working with the defense at the cornerback position he started with in fall camp.
But despite all those players out, Sterling said it’s like any other bye week.
“I feel like we’re still staying focused,” Sterling said, “because I know there’s a lot of guys on this team who really want to go to the next step in the program.”
Considering the injuries and even the possibility of not playing again this season, there is a great deal of uncertainty looming around the team.
But that doesn’t take away from the exciting possibility of moving on, Nalewaja said.
“The whole team is really hyped. You can tell everyone in the locker room is really excited,” Nalewaja said. “I’m really looking forward to what we can do. The mentality is we’re just pumped and excited to see who we get to play if we get another chance to move on and make a statement hopefully in the playoffs.”
The Blue Hawks will get together today to watch the selection show which will determine their football fate.
If the Blue Hawks make the postseason, Stanton said he will exchange three game films with whoever his team is to play.
Then it’s right back to the grindstone for Dickinson State.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Sterling said. “If we do get the opportunity, we’re going to practice everyday like it’s the championship.”

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