BEMIDJI – The University of Sioux Falls might be new to the NSIC and new to the NCAA, but the Bemidji State football players knows they’ll have their work cut out for them today.
The Beavers (1-2) take on the undefeated Cougars (3-0) at noon at Bob Young Field in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Sioux Falls is a very good team, as you can see from their record,” BSU senior running back Brent Kondziolka said. “They’re 3-0 and beat St. Cloud, who’s a very good team as well. We need to be at the top of our game (today).”
Indeed, the Cougars may have pulled the upset of the year so far in Division II when they went into St. Cloud and beat the then-ranked Huskies on their home field 32-19 in the first game of the season. USF has continued winning big since then and is now receiving votes in the most recent coaches’ poll.
Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said he expects nothing less than a battle from the Cougars despite the fact that they’re Division II newcomers.
“They have a lot of commitment in their program,” Tesch said. “When they were in the NAIA they were able to get guys in that may not have been able to get in as transfers with the NCAA rules. Those kids are all seniors, and they have a ton of seniors on their offense and defense teams.”
The Cougars have won four NAIA national titles, most recently in 2009. That means many of the players on this years’ edition have championship experience, albeit at a lower level.
And the 2012 Cougars have plenty of weapons on offense. They’re the No. 3 scoring offense in the NSIC and the No. 5 total offense. They’ve averaged 420 yards per game and scored 39.7 points per game.
“We’ve gotta be there this week,” BSU defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said. “Sioux Falls does not have a weakness on offense. They have a very good scheme. They’re very diverse, not one-dimensional.”
Jahner noted that their experience on both sides of the ball – nine seniors each on offense and defense – is one of the reasons why they’ve been so successful. Add in the fact that they have a “legitimate pro prospect” in wide receiver/tailback Carrington Hanna, and it’s easy to see why they’re such a dangerous offense.
Hanna leads the Cougars with 18 catches for 289 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterback Taylor Perkins has thrown 10 touchdowns and 711 total yards.
“We’re really going to have to defend the pass,” Beavers cornerback Larry Miller said. “They like to run a lot of spread, and they have a lot of receivers that they can go to. No. 2 (Hanna), he’s pretty good. We’ve gotta watch for him and watch for the pass.”
The Beavers will have to watch the pass on defense while making sure the offense doesn’t do what it’s done for the past two games – turn the ball over. Bemidji State has turned the ball over 11 times in its three games and has a league-worst turnover margin of minus-9 (tied with Minot State).
The Beavers lost to Wayne State 20-17 last week and fumbled the ball four times.
“Looking at the numbers, we gained a lot of yards but couldn’t finish drives (against Wayne State), which is tough,” BSU senior wide receiver Jody Henningson said.
The Beavers outgained Wayne State 451-240 but didn’t score until the second half. Henningson caught four passes for 76 yards against the Wildcats.
“That’s something we work on,” he said. “I mean, 1-2 looks bad numbers wise, but there’s stuff we’ve done offensively that I think, once we take care of the ball, will help us win games.”
BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad leads the Beavers in both passing (707 yards, 10 touchdowns) and rushing (101 yards, 1 touchdown), and has found 11 different receivers this season.
If the Beavers can keep up that kind of offense – and finish drives – they’ll have a good shot at winning today. They just have to hang on to the ball.
“It just seems like turnovers happen at inopportune times,” Kondziolka said. “You eliminate a few of those (against Wayne State) and you’re 2-1 right now. But it’s kinda rough talking about it when they’re preventable errors.”
That might be difficult on the road, according to Tesch. But winning a tough road game will be a big confidence boost for the Beavers.
“As the league gets deeper and better, you gotta win on the road,” he said. “We did not play very well on the road at Mankato because of the turnovers. … “We played well enough to win last week but we didn’t deserve to win because of the turnovers. So here’s another opportunity to go on the road and play better.
“They play extremely well at home like most teams do,” Tesch continued. “We’ll have to be on our game to beat them.”