The UMD Bulldogs are in a familiar place. For the third time in seven years they enter the final game of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play with a chance to go undefeated. A win this weekend has many implications for UMD —most notably a playoff berth. The stakes are high for Saturday’s tilt against (1-9) Minot State University, as they were in Saturday’s 53-35 win over the University of Mary on UMD’s senior day.
This year’s seniors played an important role in the game, as they have in countless others since they arrived on campus in 2010.
“We owe a lot to that group,” head coach Curt Wiese said. “It’s tough to see those guys at the end of their careers right now. We’re a younger football team, (and) this senior group has held this team together.”
It was an emotional final NSIC home game for the seniors, but their focus was on the road ahead.
“It goes quick; I feel like I just came here yesterday,” senior receiver Zach Zweifel said. “It’s overwhelming, but we just hope to keep it going.”
“Hopefully this isn’t our last time here at Malosky; hopefully we get another chance here in the playoffs,” senior linebacker Gavin Grady said.
Grady recorded the second interception of his collegiate career in Saturday’s win.
An undefeated regular season would give UMD NSIC north division title honors, as well as a share of the overall NSIC title.
At press time, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 3 in the Super Region Three rankings; if they maintain this position, they would face the sixth-seeded team at Malosky stadium in the first round of the NCAA division II football playoffs.
While the highly coveted top two seeds earn a first-round bye and a second-round home game, UMD would likely need a loss from above to move up in the rankings; a result of their comparatively weaker opponents.
Since the remaining seven teams only have one loss, a Bulldog loss against a one-win team would seriously jeopardize their playoff chances. In short, if they win, they’re in.
The Bulldogs got one game closer to the playoffs in Saturday’s victory over the University of Mary, although four second-half touchdowns threatened their perfect record. Mary’s offense threw the ball 52 times, avoiding UMD’s rush defense almost entirely. The Bulldogs allowed a season-high 35 points.
Inheriting an increased role in the backfield, sophomore Beau Bofferding turned his opportunity into four rushing touchdowns, while Logan Lauters paved the way with his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
“We feel comfortable with whoever we’re putting in the backfield, and we’re confident in them,” Zweifel said.
UMD’s senior class has significant playoff experience; since 2010, the Bulldogs have a 7-3 record in the playoffs. They were freshman during the 2010 national championship season — a season in which UMD went undefeated in NSIC play.
“We saw what it took to become a championship team (in 2010), and that’s what were trying to do this year,” Grady said. “I’d love to be in Kansas City at the end of the year, holding up that trophy.”
But first, they need to come out of Saturday’s regular season finale at Minot State University with a win.
BY JIMMY GILLIGAN Stateman Correspondent