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Keys to victory: Blue Hawks’ offense looking for a jump-start against Tech

In its one game against a Frontier Conference team this season, way back in August against Montana Western, Dickinson State's offense failed to string together meaningful drives or control the time of possession, especially in the second half.

Dickinson State linebackers Steven Koch (9) and Jayson Leinwand (36) tackle a Jamestown runner at the Biesiot Activities Center on Oct. 15. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State linebackers Steven Koch (9) and Jayson Leinwand (36) tackle a Jamestown runner at the Biesiot Activities Center on Oct. 15. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)

In its one game against a Frontier Conference team this season, way back in August against Montana Western, Dickinson State's offense failed to string together meaningful drives or control the time of possession, especially in the second half.

Of eight possessions in the final 30 minutes of the game, six ended in a punt (there were four three-and-outs), one ended with a lost fumble, and one was a garbage-time touchdown. In the first seven possessions, only two first downs were converted, and one was on a penalty.

The Blue Hawk defense spent the entire half rushing on and off the field. It made for a long night, as a one-point game at halftime quickly became a Bulldog blowout. Montana Western running back Sam Rutherford - a comparable running back to Montana Tech's Nolan Saraceni, this weekend's opponent in the first round of the NAIA playoffs - wore down the DSU defensive line, finishing with 30 attempts for 169 yards and three touchdowns, a line eerily similar to Saraceni's 23-163-3 touchdown game against DSU in the playoffs last year.

If the Blue Hawks are to change the narrative against the Frontier Conference's Montana Tech on Saturday, said head coach Pete Stanton, it will largely come down to the competency and execution of his offense.

In other words, too many three-and-outs could mean trouble.

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"Two things," said Stanton, discussing the keys for DSU's offense. "Taking care of the football and time of possession. We have to do a good job of hanging onto it, being patient. Those things are going to be crucial if we're going to be successful."

Because the Orediggers' offense is so potent, their defensive unit often gets overlooked, noted Stanton, but they are among the best in the NAIA in a few different categories.

They allow only 18.2 points per game, good for eighth in the nation, and yielded only 189 opponent first downs this year, good for 16th.

Their secondary, led by Gunnar Kayser, a 6-foot-4 defensive back who finished with seven interceptions, two behind Cain Boschee for first in the nation, is a big and physical group, said Stanton. Up front, they have the luxury of quality and depth.

"Defensively, they're outstanding," Stanton said. "One thing they do is play a lot of players during the game. They'll be subbing in and out guys defensively all game long, keeping those guys fresh. They give you a lot of looks."

Ready and focused

With all of the moving parts at play this weekend in Butte, Mont., this week of practice has been as straightforward as it gets.

At this point in the season, there are no new plays or new philosophies. A few minor tweaks here and there, maybe, but with the one-and-done format, the outlook for the rest of the year is pretty black and white.

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With such a veteran team, there hasn't been any need for Stanton to reiterate that.

"We've been pretty focused, working on a lot of things. Feel like we had a good week of practice," said senior cornerback Rob Sterling, whose college career will come to an end after this playoff run. "We know it's a big game, we know what we have to bring to the table. When the time comes to play the game, we're just going to leave it all on the field."

Sterling is one of eight players on the roster to have played all four years of their eligibility with DSU.

"Me personally, it being one-and-done, I've just been going out there and treating every game like it's the last," he said. "The last five games, I've been coming to a realization that it is my senior year. I've been going out with the mindset of leaving it on the field."

Injury report

Redshirt freshman Hayden Gibson is still struggling with a non-throwing shoulder injury, and will be a gametime decision. He did play last week against Jamestown.

Senior Kaler Ray is slated to make perhaps his final start ever for the Blue Hawks. Punter and backup quarterback Seth Moerkerke will also be available it need be, said Stanton.

Defenders Steven Koch, Hunter Moore and Nick Ortiz, who missed last week for "precautionary measure" should all be ready for Saturday's game.

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