NCAA FOOTBALL: Mustangs, Dragons share similarities heading into NSIC game in Moorhead

MOORHEAD – In many ways, the Southwest Minnesota State and the Minnesota State-Moorhead football teams are a lot alike.

At 1 p.m. today, the Mustangs (0-1 overall) and Dragons (0-1), both coming off Week 1 losses, meet at Alex Nemzek Stadium in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference crossover game in Moorhead.

The Mustangs, who have won the last four meetings against Minnesota State-Moorhead, claimed a 45-13 win over the Dragons in their last meeting Oct. 8, 2011. MSUM, which leads the all-time series 27-16, holds a 15-4 edge over SMSU in Moorhead.

“We have had success against Moorhead in recent years, but every year is new with players who have left their program and players who have emerged in our program,” Southwest Minnesota State head coach Cory Sauter said. “It’s really hard to compare one year to the next. We are looking forward to making the trip up there.”

Last Saturday, both the Mustangs and the Dragons fell during high-scoring contests. Southwest Minnesota State was burned in the second half by quick-striking St. Cloud State (49-35) at home while MSU-Moorhead rallied in the second half to score the final three touchdowns, but came up a little short at Augustana (41-28).

“There were a lot of teachable moments,” MSU-Moorhead head coach Steve Laqua said of the Dragons’ effort against the Vikings. “I was happy with the way we responded in the second half. But we need to start better.”

Both the Mustangs and the Dragons had quarterbacks who made their first collegiate start in Week 1. SMSU junior Charlie Kern completed 36 of 55 passes for 307 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. MSUM freshman Demetrius Carr was successful on 30 of 45 passes for 369 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in his college debut.

Both Kern and Carr spread the ball to several different receivers. Kern connected with seven different wideouts, including Cody Condon, who hauled in eight passes for 75 yards. Carr featured six different receivers, including Preston Prince, who made nine catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Adam Jiskra, who threw his arms around eight passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. Cory Ambrose also received another TD for the Dragons.

If the Mustangs have a clear advantage, it could come on the ground. Southwest Minnesota State ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries versus St. Cloud State. Tyler Tonderum led the Mustangs with 86 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while Kern added 54 yards and one TD on 17 carries.

Lauqa said the Dragons are looking for consistency.

“We need consistent execution on both sides of the ball,” Laqua said. “That’s really the key.”

In Week 1, the Augustana defense limited Minnesota State-Moorhead to 62 rushing yards on 34 carries. In contrast, SMSU’s defense allowed St. Cloud State to rush for 224 yards on 41 carries. The Mustangs lost the battle of total yardage, 521-447 while the Dragons won that fight, 431-369.

“They have a no-huddle, spread offense that is similar to ours,” Sauter said. “It’s unique for us to prepare for them. We actually practiced our starting offense against our starting defense this week just because we run a lot of the same things as they do. Our scout team wasn’t as involved (this week) because we wanted to simulate the best look for both ends of the field.”

Sauter said he wanted the Mustangs to focus on improving from within this week.

“We didn’t talk too much about Moorhead this week. It was more about our players and for them to make a big improvement from Week 1 to Week 2,” Sauter said. “Tackling was an issue for us (against St. Cloud State). So, we dedicated more individual time to that. On offense, we addressed the issues we had with penalties and with dropped balls. Those were some things that we put on some extra emphasis.”

In Week 1, the Mustangs had five defenders with at least seven tackles. They were linebackers Dashawn Miller and Blake Pennock (nine tackles apiece), defensive end A.J. Page (eight tackles, two sacks), safety Tate Bunkers (eight tackles) and cornerback Donovan Woods (seven tackles). Cornerback Andrew McReynolds has one interception.

Sauter said the Dragons’ defense had a new look against Augustana, but the Mustangs are ready for old tendencies.

“In a first game, you want to make sure that guys are in the right position and Moorhead seemed to keep its defensive strategy pretty simple,” Sauter said. “I know they have used a variety of different blitzing combinations against us in previous years.”

Top defenders for Moorhead include cornerback Chris Binford (11 tackles), middle linebacker Chris Lee (10 tackles), strong-side linebacker L. Ismail (eight tackles). Defensive tackle Mike Mann and linebacker Aaron Bohl have one sack apiece. Cornerback Jayden Raye has picked off one interception while Binford and Raye have each recovered a fumble.