The Bulldog football team has been rewarded for their late season perseverance: they will have a playoff game after all.
Winning their final two games without starting running back Logan Lauters and quarterback Drew Bauer, UMD finished tied for fourth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The three teams ahead of them in the standings--Sioux Falls, Minnesota State and Augustana--made the playoff tournament.
But the Bulldogs were awarded something of a playoff game after all, being named the NSIC’s representative in the Mineral Water Bowl on Dec. 5. They face Fort Hays State, of the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association, for the first time in program history, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
“It’s short of where we wanted our goals to be for the year, but we needed to reestablish our goals a few weeks back and the Mineral Water Bowl is going to be a great opportunity. We’re excited to be playing in december,” head coach Curt Wiese said.
The Bulldogs paved their way to the Mineral Water Bowl by winning their final two games of the season. The defense stepped up to aid an offense playing without its top two weapons. In their final two games, they allowed a combined 24 points.
Their strong finish bumped the Bulldog defense in the NSIC rankings: they finish the regular season second in yards allowed per game and first in their passing defense, holding the opposition to an average of 169.7 yards per game.
Offensively, backup quarterback Nate Ricci and running back Darren Walker handled their new roles well. They had a hand in five of UMD’s seven total touchdowns in the final two games. Even though these two underclassmen had strong showings, UMD’s senior class made their presence known in their final two games and especially on senior day.
Senior wide receiver Justin Fowlkes threw a 59 yard touchdown pass in Saturday’s senior day win. He also had two receptions in the game. Jon Harden, the senior nose tackle-turned-running back, scored three times on the ground. Defensively, UMD’s top two tacklers were seniors Brent Stiglich and Mark Nahorniak. They still have one game left to play but Wiese is grateful for the mark that this year’s senior class has left on the program.
“We owe these guys a lot,” Wiese said. “It’s a tough group to see leave. It’s an honor to work with the seniors for one more week and one more game.”