The Minnesota State University, Mankato football team will face their toughest opponent yet: the sixth ranked Sioux Falls University. The Mavericks are heading into week nine with a 6-2 overall record, and a 3-1 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) South record. They are on a three-game winning streak with their last victory coming against Southwest Minnesota State University with a score of 35-20.
The streak might be in jeopardy as Sioux Falls comes into this contest undefeated (8-0) on the season, with their last win was against Concordia-St. Paul by a score of 51-17.
This will be the fifth time these two schools square off ever. The Sioux Falls program recently jumped from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level to Division-II in 2012. They have been a part of the NSIC conference for the time being since. Minnesota State has not lost to Sioux Falls as of yet, as their last matchup was November 7 of last season. That final score in Sioux Falls, S.D. was 44-3, Mavericks.
Last week, the Mavericks’ star junior quarterback Nick Pieruccini sat out with a hip injury, but he will probably play this week, according to the Chicago-native. Senior Ricky Lloyd and redshirt freshman Ryan Schlichte are ready will fill in for him in need-be. All together, they account for 1,890 passing yards and 25 touchdowns on 152 completions this season.
The trio of receivers who have made a huge impact for the Mavericks are juniors Ty Dennis and Erik Fuller, and freshman Shane Zylstra. Dennis is a big (6’5”, 225lbs), possession receiver who leads the team in receiving yards with 531. He also has grabbed seven touchdowns this season. Fuller is the red-zone threat tight end who has also grabbed seven touchdowns on the season as well. Zylstra has developed into a reliable target, as he has 329 yards and six touchdowns on 20 catches on the season.
The Mavericks defense is led by two senior linebackers in Marcus Gooden and Ruben Ibarra. Ibarra leads the team with 72 total tackles and Gooden is close behind with 63. The Mavericks’ sack leader is junior defensive lineman Evan Perrizo from Eden Prairie, who has 5.5 on the season. Second on the team is sophomore Zach Dodge with 4.5, thanks to his three-sack performance last week against Southwest Minnesota State University.
The scouting report for the Sioux Falls Cougars shows they are a run-heavy team and an attacking defense. They are currently second in the country in rushing yards, averaging 341.4 yards per game (ypg). They average around 43 points per game and hold opponents to around 22, which is third in the conference respectively. Their rush defense is second in the conference, giving up an average of 106.5 ypg.
The Cougars’ rushing attack is led by junior running back Max Mickey, who has 1,161 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. The Cougars’ senior quarterback Luke Papillion is second on the team in rushing yards with 711, along with 13 touchdowns on the ground. Senior running back Justin Fulks is another major contributor to the Cougars’ offense. He has run for 629 yards and five touchdowns in 2016.
“They are run-heavy with lots of zone read and power schemes, but their style of offense plays to our strengths on defense,” said senior defensive lineman Alec Vesper. “We pride ourselves on stopping the run and that’s something we [need] to do this weekend to make them one-dimensional.”
USF’s defense is led by super senior linebacker Michael Mehling. He has racked up 71 total tackles on the season along with 3.5 sacks and an interception. Senior defensive lineman Westley Johnson leads the team in sacks with 6.5 on the season. Another impact player on the Cougars’ experienced defense is senior defensive back Cliff Redmond, who leads the team with four interceptions.
“Sioux Falls is aggressive in the secondary, so we have to keep our eyes open for some double moves to get some big plays on them,” said Pieruccini. “We put in a few new route concepts along with a couple adjustments to our run game to try and create some big plays.”
With a Cougars win, then it will pretty much guarantee a conference title for them. The Mavericks should view this game as a must-win, as it will be tough to capture a conference title if they fall short this weekend. A lot is on the line for both teams as well as the conference. The game is on October 29. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.