ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

The next level: What will it take for the Blue Hawks to win a playoff game?

The past three seasons have seen the Dickinson State football team win the North Star Athletic Association and advance to an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoff game.

Dickinson State freshman running back Bryce Vaughan attempts to elude a defender during the Blue vs. Grey scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 24, at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State freshman running back Bryce Vaughan attempts to elude a defender during the Blue vs. Grey scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 24, at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

The past three seasons have seen the Dickinson State football team win the North Star Athletic Association and advance to an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoff game.

However, each time the Blue Hawks faltered and fell to a higher-seeded school from another conference.

In 2017, Dickinson State went 9-1 during the regular season, including an 8-0 conference record. Even with that success, the team was designated the No. 13 seed, determined by the NAIA football coaches poll.

On Nov. 18, the Blue Hawks squared off with No. 5 Southern Oregon, losing 55-24 after the Raiders broke out to a 38-10 lead in the first half.

The previous two years were similar. In 2015, the No. 18 Blue Hawks faced No. 5 Montana Tech, losing 44-10. In 2016, Dickinson State was seeded 14th, faced the Orediggers again - although this time ranked No. 6. - and DSU lost 28-21.

ADVERTISEMENT

Seeding is the key to a potentially more successful first round. Where each team stands is determined by the coaches' poll, in which head coaches from each conference vote for the top teams in the league. For each first-place vote, a team earns 25 points, while second-place votes are worth 24 and so on.

"Top eight, home seed and you're comfortable at home instead of traveling a couple states," Junior quarterback Hayden Gibson said. "There's no excuse for the other team that's traveling. If you're in the playoffs you should bring whatever you got and you should be able to bring your best game together. It shouldn't matter if you're traveling or at home, but it does definitely help."

At the end of the 2017 season, the Blue Hawks had 187 points and ranked 13th in the final poll, with Saint Francis (Ind.) sitting in first with 340. Saint Francis went on to win the championship game 24-13 over Reinhardt (Ga.).

"One part of it is your regular-season record and I think past success," Stanton said of seeding. "It takes a while. Two years ago when we played non-conference games against Black Hills (State), we're in a pretty good position to be a higher seed and get a home game, and we lose that non-conference game and end up with the second loss of the season. Then it's difficult. A lot of the polling is going to go off of previous years and obviously you really can't lose more than once. We lost once last year and still weren't in that position to be able to host."

While the Blue Hawks certainly had past success, they still need to prove themselves this season against conference and non-conference opponents, showing they can compete at a high level.

The Frontier Conference seems to have that higher level, producing an NAIA top-4 team in Southern Oregon in 2017 and a pair of top-8 teams the two years before that. Montana Tech and Southern Oregon were Frontier Conference champions in the years they faced the Blue Hawks in the postseason.

Since its teams are closer than those in other conferences, DSU has seen at least one Frontier opponent during the regular season every year since they left the conference ahead of the 2014 season.

In the 2017 home opener, the Blue Hawks toppled Rocky Mountain College (Mont.) 43-28, but the Battlin' Bears weren't even the cream of the crop, going 6-5 to finish third in the conference.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2016, DSU lost 29-13 to the University of Montana - Western who went 7-4 and finished third in the Frontier Conference that year. The fall before, DSU downed MSU-Northern 17-7, but they went 0-11 that season. The Blue Hawks also saw Rocky Mountain in the regular season that year, dropping the contest 23-3 while the Battlin' Bears went on to finish fourth in the Frontier Conference.

Keep in mind, the Blue Hawks were the top of the NSAA in each of those years.

This fall, DSU will face Rocky Mountain in Billings, followed by a trip to NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. If those competitions end in wins, that could boost the Blue Hawks in the coaches poll.

"The eyes, when they're looking at us, they want to see have we been tested enough," senior offensive lineman Devin Schwanz said. "That'll be perfect for us to go through the schedule. There's going to be some adversity."

Seeding isn't everything

Seeding doesn't have to determine a team's playoff success, though.

In 2015, the No. 6 seed, Marian (Ind.) defeated No. 7 seed Southern Oregon for the championship.

In that year, the Marian Knights boasted the second-best defense in the NAIA, allowing an average of 14.4 points per game, while countering with one of the strongest offenses, averaging 41.7 points per game.

ADVERTISEMENT

While it's just two of hundreds of statistics that combine to describe a team, championship-winning teams seem to have one thing in common: They keep their opponents under 20 points while scoring 40. In the past three seasons, the top-eight finishing teams have averaged 41.8 points per game and limited their opponents to an average of 18.8.

In 2017, the Blue Hawks narrowly missed that window, scoring 37.6 points per game and giving up 20.9. Over the past three years, the Blue Hawks have put up similar numbers, averaging 35.5 points in 2016 and 29.7 in 2015, respectively allowing 20.5 and 20.3 points per game.

Each team seems to have a different way to accomplish that goal, though.

The 2015 Marian team had the second-best scoring offense, while it had the best rushing defense and the most sacks in the entire NAIA.

Saint Francis, the 2016 champion, boasted the third-best pass offense as well the third-most sacks and fourth most effective rushing defense.

In 2017, Saint Francis used its top-three scoring defense and second-highest scoring squad to take the crown, while also earning the most kickoff return yards per attempt.

So what is the correct formula for the 2018 Dickinson State squad?

Last season they relied on a fairly balanced pass-rush offense, putting up 2,089 yards on the ground and 2,781 in the air. The offensive line was also a weapon, allowing an NAIA-leading 0.7 sacks a game and eight total on the season.

"We have to be able to be balanced and give what the defense gives us offensively. That's easier said than done, but we like our offensive line returns and we have a very good quarterback returning," Stanton said. "Our formula is we have to be able to run the football. Any time of year, all the best teams are able to do that, run the football, but also to have some balance."

What To Read Next
DICKINSON — The Dickinson Midgets basketball teams fell to Western Dakota Association's powerhouse Century Patriots on Tuesday evening. Both the boys and girls varsity teams struggled to keep up with the Patriots' consistent scoring, falling 100-66 and 67-49 respectively.
Clancy Meyer becomes first female varsity wrestler from Dickinson to win on home mat in inaugural season
The Dawgs scored 51 points from beyond the arc in their away match against Grant County Mott-Regent.
Midgets secure 109-72 blowout win against Watford City at home in record-breaking game