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Hardrockers enjoying best season in 25 years

Dickinson native Tyler Barth has witnessed the change in attitude toward football at South Dakota Mines this fall. The excitement has trickled outside of the athletic department and into student-athletes and faculty members who never showed more ...

Jamie Dale and Jerel Hafner
Press Photo by Dustin Monke South Dakota Mines tailback Jamie Dale, left, is met by Dickinson State linebacker Jerel Hafner during their game on Oct. 17, 2009, at Fisher Field. DSU won that game 29-20, its 24th consecutive win over the Hardrockers. However, Mines enters today's game at O'Harra Stadium ranked 12th, one spot ahead of DSU and already having secured in its first winning season since 1985.

Dickinson native Tyler Barth has witnessed the change in attitude toward football at South Dakota Mines this fall.

The excitement has trickled outside of the athletic department and into student-athletes and faculty members who never showed more than a passing interest in the team.

"Some of those things we didn't see in previous years," said Barth, a Dickinson Trinity graduate who is the team's starting fullback.

That's because it has been 25 years since the Hardrockers have enjoyed a football season like this one -- or for that matter, one with a winning record.

The perennial cellar-dweller is making its final year in the Dakota Athletic Conference one to remember. It comes into today's game against Dickinson State ranked 12th in the NAIA coaches' poll and on top of the conference in the standings and numerous statistical categories.

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"Obviously winning cures a lot of evils," said Mines head coach Dan Kratzer, who is in his sixth season.

The Hardrockers (6-1, 5-0 DAC) are even ranked higher than the Blue Hawks (6-1, 4-1 DAC), who are ranked No. 13 after being handed their first loss of the season against Black Hills State last Saturday.

Mines hasn't defeated DSU since 1977, DSU head coach Hank Biesiot's second season. They tied 3-3 in 1976. DSU has won the past 24 meetings.

Nevertheless, Biesiot has maintained throughout the season that he believes Mines will present the Blue Hawks with their greatest test.

"We knew going in that this was going to be the case," Biesiot said. "If you're going to get to where you want to be, you're going to have to have some tough games, and here's another one coming up."

The Hardrockers' toughness comes from a veteran group of several three- and four-year starters.

Barth, junior tailback Jamie Dale, junior quarterback Nick Russell, junior receiver Tony Ostheimer, senior guard Mark Olson, junior kicker Andy Smith, senior defensive end Brian Kemnitz, senior linebackers Everett Brill and Tim Luchini and senior defensive backs Tom Lunzman, Dana Mellage and Dustin Meneley, who is also the Hardrockers' top return man, have all been starters or big contributors throughout their careers.

Dale is the DAC's leading rusher, averaging 135.3 yards a game. Russell compliments him nicely as they've turned the Hardrockers into the highest-scoring offense in the DAC (28.3 points per game) as well as its most productive (369.6 yards per game). W ith nine senior starters, they also boast the best defense in the conference -- in terms of total yards -- allowing 260 yards per game. DSU leads the scoring defense category, giving up just 14.3 points per game.

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"The group that we have right now that's seniors and juniors, we've been together the last four or five years. We're the ones who have been playing," said Barth, who redshirted his first season at Mines after leading Trinity to the Class AA state championship game as a quarterback in 2006.

"We knew coming into the program that it wasn't a great program. But we had a lot of recruits who came in with us and we talked about back as freshmen and sophomores that if we stuck together, we'd have all this experience of playing together for two or three years and we could do something by the time we were juniors or seniors."

Hawks want to put BHSU game in their rear view

DSU offensive line coach Pete Leno is one of the more animated coaches in college football on game day.

He yells, he scolds and he gets fired up.

But Blue Hawks senior left tackle Aaron Cook said Leno took a calm approach, as he tends to during the week, to help the offensive line bounce back from a forgettable game last Saturday.

"We slowed things down Monday, Tuesday and most of Wednesday and just refocused and took a look at what we've done as compared to how we need to finish and the things we need to grow on," Cook said. "Toward the end of the week, we picked it back up and I think it was pretty successful."

DSU's offensive line was slapped with numerous penalties during a 19-13 loss, the Blue Hawks' first of the season, last week against Black Hills State.

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Although there has been a bit of contention about the penalties this week -- several members of the team said film sessions left them perplexed as to why some of the flags were thrown -- DSU's offensive leaders said they understand why struggled against the Yellow Jackets.

DSU rushed for a season-low 73 yards on 32 carries and had 225 total yards.

"We've got a whole new outlook on the rest of the season," Cook said.

The offensive line will have to fight through some injuries suffered last week too.

Sophomore guard Kyle Enebo and sophomore right tackle Carl Dynneson made the trip to Rapid City, S.D., on Friday night, but their time on the field may be limited. Both are nursing ankle injuries sustained against last Saturday.

"We hope we get them back, but that'll be a game-time decision," Biesiot said.

Quick hits

-- Sophomore Heath Hafner will start in place of injured senior defensive tackle Seth Forster, who suffered a tear in his Anterior Cruciate Ligament and calf muscle in his right leg last week.

-- Kratzer had eye surgery on Friday but is expected to be on the sidelines today.

Related Topics: BLUE HAWKS
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