The wait is over. In a matter of days SDSU(6-4,3-0 GWFC) and North Dakota State will strap on their helmets and battle for the fourth annual Dakota Marker. More importantly, for the second year in a row the Jacks will be battling for the Great West Championship.
This undefeated Bison(10-0,3-0) team is a very good football team, with perhaps even better coaching.
Let’s breakdown this rivalry:
Ryan Berry looks to pull off a victory that would end a great junior season. In 10 games Berry has thrown for 2,028 yards with a 60 percent passing rating. A 2-1 (19-10) touchdown-interception rate is a very impressive mark. The junior from Watertown will be the key for the Jackrabbits.
Bison quarterback Steve Walker is the leader of this team and has led the best team in the football sub-division with some miracle comebacks. With one game to play in his career, he already has 2,154 yards with 19 touchdowns. Walker has more talent surrounding him.
Running back/Offensive line
Over the past three weeks, Tyler Roehl has gained more than 600 yards along with eight touchdowns. Pat Paschall adds another threat to form a very good one-two punch.
Cory Koenig and Kyle Minett counter NDSU’s dynamic duo. Koenig will do everything in his power to see that his final game as a Jackrabbit does not end in a loss. In space both Koenig and Minett have the distance to take it to the house.
With two duos for both teams it makes for a push.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
JaRon Harris may be unable to play in the game. Expect wide outs Saunders Montague and Glen Fox to step up and be primary receivers for Berry along with Brookings’ natives Chris Doblar and tight end Chris Wagner. Wagner along with fellow tight end Matt Anderson looks to have a strong final game for SDSU.
Kole Heckendorf leads the Bison receiver core with impressive numbers (43 catches, 712 yards and six touchdowns). Alex Belquist and Jerimiah Wurzbacher could also give SDSU problems.
Without Harris, the Jacks lose the edge.
The last four games, the defensive line has come up very big for John Stiegelmeier’s team. Stig credits the line for lots of hustle sacks. Seniors Jason Bonwell and Mitch Pontrelli, along with sophomore Danny Batten, will look to hit Walker and Rhoel in the mouth.
Joe Lardinois (seven sacks), Christon Dallas (four), Matthew Gratzek (two) and Nick Compton (three) have given defensive coordinators headaches all year long. On the natural grass at Coughlin-Alumni, too much SDSU big guys.
Senior SDSU leader Justin Kubesh is questionable his final collegiate game. If Kubesh is out, look for Chris Johnson to step up. Jimmy Rogers is a very intense football player; look to him for another solid game.
The NDSU linebacker core is led by Joe Mays (79 tackles, seven for loss) and Ramon Humber may be the best linebacker core in all of FCS football. Not many teams can run on this core.
At the start of the season the advantage would have gone to NDSU without a question. However, Tyler Koch has changed that with his dominant performance. Koch had more touchdowns (two) than any other SDSU receiver. The Jacks bend but do not break strategy. This gives them a slight edge.
With Bison punter Mike Dragovich being quite possibly the best punter in all of the NCAA (FCS or otherwise) if the Bison do punt they will be in good shape. Shawn Bibeau has been just impressive as Parker Douglass this season and went 3-3 last week against Cal Poly.
While the Bison held the slightest of lead on paper, in a rivalry game like this you can throw out all the speculation stuff out the window. Enjoy a very good tackle football game.