NCAA FOOTBALL: Mustangs regroup, set for Sioux Falls

MARSHALL – It’s homecoming football for the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs tonight.

SMSU (2-2 overall, 0-0 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South) faces Sioux Falls (2-2 NSIC, 0-0 NSIC South) with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The Mustangs and Cougars begin divisional play against each other at The Schwan Regional Event Center.

Southwest Minnesota State, which is 20-24 all-time in homecoming games, enters this contest after a stunning 41-40 loss at Bemidji State last Saturday. Sioux Falls is riding high after clobbering Minnesota-Crookston 52-7 at home.

“If you lose a tight ballgame like we did last Saturday, it can definitely have an effect on the team,” Mustangs head coach Cory Sauter said. “Our focus this week has been to make sure that we’re okay and not so much worrying about Sioux Falls.”

Both teams have potent rushing attacks. The Mustangs rank 10th in Division II, averaging 281.5 yards per game, while the Cougars are rank 12th, averaging 276.5 yards per game.

The Mutstangs’ Tyler Tonderum (117 carries, 785 yards, 10 TDs) is second overall in Division II. The Cougars’ Nephi Garcia (72 carries, 459 yards, two TDs) is 30th in the same rushing race.

Even both quarterbacks are mobile. SMSU’s Charlie Kern has 171 yards and one touchdown on 49 carries. USF’s Luke Papilion has 387 yards and nine touchdowns on 62 carries.

“Sioux Falls, obviously, has a great running attack and our hands will be full defending Garcia, but Papilion can also do some things,” Sauter said. “It’s going to tough to focus on one guy because they have multiple people to defend. We want to keep their backs at bay and have them gain as little as possible.”

Through the air, Kern is 84 of 117 attempts for 881 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Papilion (43 of 105, 457 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions) has a little more than half of Kern’s completions and passing yards.

The Mustangs like to spread the ball evenly amongst its receivers as five different Mustangs – Anthony Dean (15 receptions), Jordan Cross (15), Cody Condon (15), Britt Wickett (14) and Tonderum (11) – have reached double digits catches this season. Dean has piled up 232 yards and four touchdowns as a wideout, while Cross has hauled in two touchdown passes and Will Kurka adds one.

“Having multiple receivers benefits everyone in our offense,” Sauter said. “They can’t focus on stopping one guy. Every single week, our guys know that someone might be featured. With that, our opponents still have to defend the whole field.”

The Cougars have targeted two main receivers in its passing game – Carrington Hanna and Austin Vanhove. Hanna has contributed 17 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown, while Vanhove has chipped in 13 receptions for 164 yards and zero touchdowns.

Overall, SMSU outgains USF in total yards by an average of 501.5 to 414.8 and outscores the Cougars 34.8 to 28.5.

Both defenses give up a lot of yards and a lot of points. USF has slight edges in both categories, allowing 357.0 yards and 23.3 points per game. SMSU gives up 376.2 yards and 32.8 points per game.

The Mustangs are led by seven players with more than 20 tackles – defensive end A.J. Page (38 stops), linebacker Blake Pennock (29), Jared Twedt (27), Donovan Woods (26), J.J. Bobrowicz (23), Tate Bunkers (23) and Dashawn Miller (22). Page has 4.5 sacks, while Woods and Miller each add two more. Twedt and Woods have two interceptions apiece, while Andrew McReynolds and McKoy Rodning have each picked off one pass. Twedt, Bobrowicz, Miller and Maz Mattila have all recovered one fumble apiece.

Page ranks first among NSIC defenders in sacks and tackles for loss (9.0) and is fourth overall in tackles.

On defense, Sioux Falls is led by linebackers Carter Ahlers (30 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss), Clint Wilson (29 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) and John Batinich (29 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss) and defensive back Broughan Jantz (30 tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery). Defensive lineman Evan Gentry is the Cougars’ sack leader with 2.0 and defensive back John Tidwell has intercepted two passes. Defensive back Jordan Johnson and defensive end Thomas Marshall have also recovered one fumble apiece.

Neither team has scored a touchdown on special teams this season.