On The Road: Mavericks Open Against #22-Ranked Beavers

After a long 292-day offseason, the unranked Minnesota State University, Mankato football team is prepared to take on #22-ranked Bemidji State University today at 6 p.m to kick off the 2022 campaign.

Despite opening the season on the road against a ranked opponent, the Mavericks are determined to repeat last-year’s 45-24 win against the Beavers in similar fashion.

Last year’s Harvest Bowl contest featured two well-respected programs grinding it out in a tough, back-and-forth game through most of the first half. Until a late touchdown by then junior wide-receiver, Nyles Williams, turned the tides in MSU’s favor. The Mavericks would outscore the Beavers 21-7 in the 2nd half.

Now, it’s week one of the 2022 season, and both teams are looking to make statements and form an identity that would carry them throughout the season.

However, don’t expect a replay from last year’s matchup as both teams have made significant changes to their lineup.

As a team, the Mavericks return seven starters from last year’s team that went 6-5 during the season and finished eighth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference(NSIC). Of those seven starters is sophomore quarterback Hayden Ekern, who appeared in 10 games in 2021 including their win against Bemidji State.

Minnesota State head coach Todd Hoffner spoke briefly about his confidence in Ekern and how he’s been able to develop from last year. “I would not consider Hayden Ekern to be youthful,” Hoffner said. “I see him as being mature and experienced. He’s been in 10 NSIC games and hopefully he can use his past experiences and what he’s learned to be able to help us in the future.”

Hoffner also assured sophomore quarterback Mitch Randall, and the ability of using a two-quarterback tandem strategy in the future, will benefit the team. “I think he’s done well enough to play,” Hoffner said. “We have a two-quarterback tandem scenario and we have plans depending on how the games progress.”

In addition to Ekern and Randall, the Mavericks also return junior runningback Kaleb Sleezer, who led the team with 491 rushing yards and was named to the NSIC All-Academic Team. Of his 491 rushing yards, 114 came in his standout performance against Bemidji.

As for the Beavers, they return 14 starters including junior quarterback Brandon Alt who led the team to a 10-3 overall record and a share of the 2021 NSIC Championship. Alt also returns after setting an NSIC single-season passing touchdown record last year with 46.

Among the other returning Beavers is junior runningback Jalen Frye, who missed the entirety of 2021 with an injury. During his sophomore year in 2019, Frye ranked fifth nationally with 148.6 rushing yards per game and was named to the Don Hansen All-America Second Team Offense.

In his 13 seasons with Minnesota State, Hoffner knows the first game of the season always comes with a sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. “The first game that Bemidji played last year was a very low scoring college football game and our first game went into overtime,” Hoffner stated.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty coming out of fall camp and figuring out how you get into the flow of a football game,” Hoffner continued. “But we’re doing the best we can and working to put our players in a position to be successful. It’ll be a tough challenge and we’re gonna have our hands full on the road.”

Header Photo: The Mavericks are at Bemidji to face the Beavers today at Chet Anderson Stadium at 6 p.m. (Chance Bowen). (Julia Barton/The Reporter)

Write to Karson Buelow at Karson.Buelow@mnsu.edu

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