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Struggling to convert: Third-downs a problem for Blue Hawks in loss to Rocky Mountain

In its opening drive against Rocky Mountain College, the Dickinson State football team faced a third-and-15 situation. After a too-many-men penalty, the Blue Hawks lined up on their own 21-yard line. Junior quarterback Hayden Gibson received the ...

In its opening drive against Rocky Mountain College, the Dickinson State football team faced a third-and-15 situation.

After a too-many-men penalty, the Blue Hawks lined up on their own 21-yard line. Junior quarterback Hayden Gibson received the snap in the shotgun with running back Amad Andrews at his side. For targets, Gibson had one receiver to his left and two to the right. The second he got the ball, Gibson looked downfield to his right. He rolled out and back to the 11-yard line before firing toward senior receiver Randy Ivey. Ivey caught the ball at the 33 and turned, making it past the 40-yard line for the first down before a pair Battlin' Bears knocked him down.

In the first half of their 21-10 loss at Rocky Mountain on Saturday, Sept. 8, the Blue Hawks converted on five of their nine attempts on third down. However, in the second half, they went 1-for-9, converting only on third-and-short in the opening moments of the third quarter with a pass to senior receiver Seth Moerkerke.

"Rocky's defense, they bring a lot of different looks. I thought we were ready for the most part. They're really disciplined up front. Their linebackers are a solid group. Third down, we couldn't get third-and-long, we happened to be in third-and-long quite a bit," Gibson said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. It just didn't work out the way we planned."

Penalties were what brought Dickinson State down, as the team committed nine for 93 yards, resulting in more third-and-long situations. During the second drive of the first half, Gibson found sophomore slot receiver Tyger Frye.

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In the second half, third-down attempts didn't go well. Three passes were incomplete, one reception came up short of first-down yardage, and the final throw was intercepted. Both rushes, even one on third-and-2, came up short.

There were a few near-misses when a receiver got their hands on the ball, but couldn't bring it in for the catch.

"It was just some missed opportunities in the second half. We just missed some things in the passing game," head coach Pete Stanton said. "We had a couple drops. That makes a huge difference. You catch the ball on third down and you run, ... you run the ball for three or four minutes or you run the time for three or four minutes, that makes a heck of a difference."

The Blue Hawks heavily leaned toward passing, as the Battlin' Bears defensive line shut down the run game, allowing 83 yards on the day. Of the six third-down conversions overall, just two were on the ground.

"We're playing against a really good front and that's part of it," Stanton said. "Going back, it's easy to look back, we talked about it and we'd probably run the ball a little bit more. A couple times, we'd get in second-and-long situations and it was tough to get a push, but that's part of it. You got credit their linebacking corp, their defensive fronts are a veteran crew."

Ahead of Gibson's sole touchdown pass, a 75-yard beauty to Ivey on the sideline, Andrews earned the first down with a 17-yard dash straight up the middle. Other than that, the junior running back struggled finding gaps up the center, earning the most yardage when he kicked out to the side and around the line. He finished the day with 65 rushing yards over 12 carries.

"They skimmed across and then we just take them in the direction they want to go," left tackle John Haraldson said of Rocky Mountain linemen. "It just closed down the gaps pretty quick. That's why he had to go outside most of the time."

The Battlin' Bears trench put pressure on a typically solid offensive line that returned all but one starter. The Blue Hawks allowed an NAIA-fewest eight sacks last season, but gave up two on Saturday. On a few occasions, with no one open downfield and a collapsing pocket, Gibson was forced to scramble, something he rarely does.

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"They did move a lot, linebackers, blitzes, sometimes it's hard to pick up when it happens so fast," Haraldson said. "But, I thought we did our job a little better but there are things to improve on, definitely."

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