NCAA FOOTBALL: Must-win for Mustangs vs. Augustana

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – There is a lot riding on today’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division football game for Southwest Minnesota State.

The Mustangs (6-4 overall, 4-2 NSIC South) have the opportunity to make a bowl appearance, but only if they can defeat Augustana (4-6 overall, 2-4 NSIC South) and receive some help before securing a spot in the 48th Mineral Water Bowl on Dec. 7 in Excelsior Springs, Mo.

“The whole message for our players this week has been for us to win the football game today,” Southwest Minnesota State head coach Cory Sauter said. “It’s the only thing we have been focused on. We have to win and, then, we will see if St. Cloud State makes the playoffs.”

If SMSU can secure a victory over the Vikings and Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State all qualify for the six-team NCAA Division II Football Super Region 3 Tournament, the Mustangs would be the highest-rated team in the NSIC not to make the playoffs.

In the current Super Region 3 rankings, the top six teams are Northwest Missouri State (10-0) at No. 1, Minnesota State (10-0) at No. 2, Henderson State, Ark., (10-0) at No. 3, Minnesota-Duluth at No. 4, Pittsburg State, Kan., (9-1) at No. 5 and Emporia State, Kan., (8-1) at No. 6.

St. Cloud State (9-1, 5-1) is currently ranked seventh and is on the outside and looking into the playoffs. The Huskies have to defeat Minnesota State-Moorhead (4-6, 4-2) at 1 p.m. today to have a chance to get into the Super Region 3 Tournament.

“There are a lot of things that could happen and strength of schedule plays into the rankings, as well,” Sauter said. “Winning today at Augustana would be a big accomplishment for ourselves. We need to treat this game today as a bowl game.”

If one of the top six teams in Super Region 3 were to lose and St. Cloud State were to win, the Huskies would likely be a shoe-in to make the playoffs.

Northwest Missouri State travels to play Missouri Western (8-2) at 2:30 p.m. today. Minnesota State is on the road at Upper Iowa (6-4) at 1 p.m. today. Henderson State hosts Ouachita Baptist (7-2) at 2 p.m. today. Minnesota-Duluth has an away game at Northern State (4-6) at 1 p.m. today. Pittsburg entertains Missouri Southern (6-3) in a home game at 2 p.m. today. Emporia State has a home game against Washburn, Kan., (8-2) at 1 p.m. today.

The Mustangs and Vikings have a contrast of styles. SMSU has a high-scoring offense that averages 42.7 points, while Augustana’s stout defense only allows an average of 18.0 points. The Vikings average 19.8 points on offense, while the Mustangs give up an average of 37.0 points.

A victory against Augustana would put Southwest Minnesota State in rare company in Mustang history. Just three SMSU squads – 1987, 1990 and 1991 – have won seven games or more.

Since defeating the Vikings 28-10 at Sioux Falls in 1991, the Mustangs have lost 15 consecutive games to Augustana.

“This is the big game because a win here would be very special to our program,” Sauter said. “I would like to see us play very well and give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

In a game like this, the Vikings use of clock management could be a factor.

“We have seen a little bit of everything (as our opponents try to contain our offense),” Sauter said. “Last week against Concordia, they tried to use the clock against us and they wanted to kill as much time as possible. But, if you look at the time of possession, we only had the ball for about 23 minutes and we still were able to score 55 points.”