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Dickinson State facing their biggest test yet against Valley City State

The top two teams in the North Star Athletic Association will meet this week with conference championship aspirations on the line.

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(Race Archibald / The Dickinson Press)

The Blue Hawks football team will hit the road for the first time since mid-September as they travel across the state to meet Valley City State on Saturday in what shapes up to be the biggest game of the year in the conference so far.

GAME INFO

Saturday, Oct. 23 - Dickinson State Blue Hawks (4-0, 4-2) @ Valley City State Vikings (4-1, 6-1), Lokken Stadium, Valley City, ND, 2:00 p.m. MST.

LAST TIME OUT

It was arguably DSU’s most complete game last time out against Iowa Wesleyan as both the offense and defense put the game out of reach by the middle of the second quarter. The Blue Hawks offense was unstoppable, scoring seven touchdowns on their first seven drives.

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Despite the Tigers having just one win on the season, they boasted the most pass-happy offense in the NAIA. They were a top ten passing offense in the country, but were held to just 104 yards in the game.

Before Iowa Wesleyan could settle into the game, it was 34-0 at the beginning of the second quarter. DSU quarterback Drew Boedecker tossed three touchdowns to three different receivers in the opening quarter.

Boedecker and other offensive starters were pulled midway through the second quarter as the Blue Hawks held a 41-0 lead.

DSU had more touchdowns (7) than the Tigers had first downs (2) in the first half.

Wide receiver Tyger Frye continued his streak of games with six-plus catches, finishing this one with six for 80 yards and a touchdown. He sits at ninth in the NAIA with 43 receptions this season.

Boedecker through six games has 1,476 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Overall the Blue Hawks are fifth in the NAIA in scoring at 44 points per game. Their red zone execution has been excellent all year, scoring touchdowns on 79 percent of possessions that enter the opponents 20-yard line.

THIS WEEKS OPPONENT

Going into their matchup against Dakota State last Saturday, Valley City State were undefeated and ranked No. 15 in the NAIA and tied with DSU atop the NSAA standings.

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Their offense sputtered against the Trojans and fell 24-10, turning the ball over five times. Instead of this week’s matchup being a clash of the two undefeated teams in the conference, it’s do or die time for the Vikings as they look to take a big step towards a conference title, or at least a share of it.

Sitting at No. 23 in this week’s NAIA top 25, the defense has been the driving force behind Valley City State’s success. They boast top-ten marks in a number of defensive categories, including total yards per game (255), points per game (13.4), sacks (23) and interceptions (14).

There’s two names to look out for on the Vikings defense, both in the linebacker unit; freshman Riley Gerhardt and sophomore Jahidi West. Gerhardt leads them in sacks (7), West leads in interceptions (4). They anchor a unit that allows only 54 rushing yards per game. The Vikings have allowed seven or fewer points on three occasions this season.

Offensively it’s a less impressive unit, scoring 29.1 points per game, but senior quarterback Jalen Pfeifer has thrown for 1,731 yards and 18 touchdowns. Sophomore Justice Bice is their leading rusher with 566 yards and three touchdowns.

They have two receivers over 400 yards, senior Michael Cornelious and freshman Benjamin Dumond. Cornelious has the most touchdowns with six.

Long-time head coach Dennis McCulloch leads the Vikings in his 28th year, posting a 143-97 record, the winningest in school history. He’s been the coach of the year in the conference six times.

SERIES HISTORY

VCSU and DSU have matched up 15 times since the first meeting in 2009, with the Blue Hawks holding a 10-5 advantage. It’s been dominated by DSU in the last ten matchups, going 8-2 in that span.

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However, it was the Vikings who gave the Blue Hawks their last loss in conference play back on Oct. 26, 2019, where they won 23-22.

FROM DSU HEAD COACH PETE STANTON

On the Vikings’ defense - “They’re excellent up front. Three or four really good players there that cause a lot of problems. They don’t give you much on the back end, have been good all year long and are a difficult defense to go against, we’ll definitely have our hands full.”

On the matchup between the DSU defense and the VCSU offense - “Our defense has been steadily improving. They’ve got a veteran quarterback that is their all-time leading passer, veteran offense line, fast receivers and an efficient running back. They have the complete package.”

On the passing game pacing the offense if the run game falters - “We’ll have to be balanced, but in the past and all year long we know we have receivers that have made some plays. They’ll have to make some more...it’s easier said than done.”

On the big game atmosphere - “They have their entire team back this year, it’s a big game for both teams. Their situation last week, Dakota State didn’t have very many yards and VCSU had some miscues on special teams that hurt them. So we know going in it’s going to be a big game.”

KEYS TO THE GAME

Vikings’ offense vs Blue Hawks’ defense - The strengths of both teams are noted, DSU’s offense and VCSU’s defense. That battle will be important for sure, but what could determine the outcome of game is what happens on the flip side of the ball. As Stanton noted, the defense has improved for the Blue Hawks over the course of the season, allowing just 6.7 points per game in conference play. For VCSU, their offense isn’t as explosive as DSU’s unit, but it’s an efficient one that doesn’t turn the ball over much and controls the clock. They rank fifth in the NAIA in time of possession.

Avoid negative plays on offense - The Vikings have done a great job all year in creating negative plays and forcing turnovers. They have three players with over four sacks and four with multiple interceptions this season. They also have a superb run defense. It may play into the hands of the Blue Hawks offense, one designed to throw the ball, but VCSU has been at it’s best when they know the ball will be put up in the air. Pass-blocking and taking care of the ball will be two keys for the offense to have a successful Saturday.

Big game atmosphere - It’s DSU’s biggest game of the season. At 4-0 in the conference, a win would not only put them at 5-0 in conference play, but would give them a two-game cushion over the Vikings and control their destiny for a conference title. They still have to play Waldorf, who are 3-1 in the conference, but knocking one team out of the conference race would be ideal. The Blue Hawks haven’t been on the road for over a month. Calming down the crowd and nerves early will go a long way towards securing a win.

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