NCAA FOOTBALL: With nemisis BSU in the way, Mustangs go for 3 straight

BEMIDJI – A victory today for the Southwest Minnesota State football team today would be quite special to the Mustangs’ program.

SMSU (2-1 NSIC, 0-0 NSIC South), which has won two consecutive games, has not had a three-game winning streak since 2004. The Mustangs are also looking to snap a 12-game losing streak against today’s opponent, Bemidji State (1-2 NSIC, 0-0 NSIC North, at Chet Anderson Stadium in Bemidji.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Just before practice ended Thursday at The Schawn Regional Center, quarterback Charlie Kern and wideout Anthony Dean spent extra time to work on a screen pass and the placement of the ball.

“We were working on our communication,” said Dean, who is the Mustangs’ second-leading receiver with 11 catches, but leads SMSU with three receiving TDs. “We were making sure that ball is placed in the right spot for me to get upfield faster.”

Dean said he has enjoyed working with Kern, a junior who has made just three starts under center.

“It was something he did to make me feel comfortable,” Dean said. “I can talk to him (Charlie) and that’s what I like about him.”

Dean said he noticed how the Beavers employ their defensive backs while the Mustangs reviewed videos this week of Bemidji State’s first three games.

“It seems like their DBs give receivers, like me, a lot of cushion and we want to exploit that,” Dean said. “They don’t play up on the line of scrimmage too much. They don’t seem to press, even at all. I think it’s because they don’t want to get beat deep.”

Beavers cornerbacks Ralph Biah (5-foot-10) and Larry Miller (6-0) and safeties Dylan Valentine (6-0) and Scott Christensen (5-10) will be the Bemidji State defensive backs Dean will be trying to beat downfield. At 6-2, Dean has a height advantage over all four of them.

Kern said he is comfortable with taking anything the Beavers’ defense is willing to give the Mustangs.

“Traditionally, Bemidji State is a very good football team with a very good defense,” Kern said. “We need to take what they give to us. We want to establish the running game, like we do every week with Tyler (Tonderum). If they try to take that away, we feel like we have answers for it.”

Kern is dual threat to pass and to run. He has thrown for 639 yards on 67 of 105 passing with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Kern adds 200 yards and one touchdown on 47 carries.

Last Saturday against Minot State, the SMSU offense early-on wanted to establish its running game with Tonderum, the NSIC rushing leader. But that was what the MSU defense was attempting to take away.

The Mustangs reacted by throwing short-yardage aerials to make Minot State defenders leave the box and play against the pass. That opened up running lanes for Tonderum, who responded with his second straight 100-yard rushing effort with 153 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.

Tonderum has run for 586 yards and eight TDs on 83 carries this season. His 16.0-point per game average is also first in the NSIC and his 211.3 all-purpose yard average is second in the league.

The last two Saturdays, Tonderum has rushed for three touchdowns apiece against Minnesota State-Moorhead and Minot State.

Offensively, SMSU holds a huge statistical advantage. The Mustangs average 500.0 yards per game, which ranks 20th in NCAA Division II, while the Beavers average 186.7 yards per game. On average, SMSU has outrushed Bemidji State 287.0 yards to 74.3 and outgrown BSU 213.0 yards to 112.3.

The Beavers will counter with quarterback Alex Hass, who has completed 12 of 28 passes for no touchdowns or interceptions. Ryan Shield (23 of 59, 199 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) has also seen time under center.

Avery Walker leads BSU in rushing with 185 yards and one touchdown on 46 carries. Only Josh Malone has caught 10 passes for Bemidji State, but a total of 10 wideouts have hauled in at least one pass for the Beavers.

NOTE: With 14 catches in 2013, Cody Condon is SMSU’s leading pass-catcher. Tonderum, Jordan Cross and Britt Wickett add 10 receptions each.