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Dakota Wesleyan University junior linebacker Jeff Maassen closes in after a Nebraska Wesleyan University player makes a catch during a Great Plains Athletic Conference football game earlier this season at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)

DWU faces Dordt with history on the line

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Early in the season, Dakota Wesleyan University’s offense took control and set the standard for the football team, with the defense doing enough to keep the Tigers in games.

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Now 10 games into the season, DWU finds itself a balanced team. The Tiger defense has stepped up and helped lead DWU to three straight wins.

“I have to give full credit to our coaches,” said DWU sophomore linebacker Brady Bonte, who has a team-best 82 tackles, one interception and a fumble recovery. “They have helped us realize that we can be a dominant defense with the personnel we have. Our D-line has played really well the last few weeks.”

The No. 22 Tigers (7-3, 6-2 GPAC) look for their fourth straight and eighth win of the season today as they travel to take on Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Dordt College at 1 p.m. in Sioux Center, Iowa.

With a win, the squad will be the third team in school history to win eight games in a season, with the other two seasons in 1976 and 1992. The Tigers are also looking in on the NAIA tournament, which hosts 16 teams, and must move up six spots to secure their spot, according to DWU head coach Ross Cimpl.

“We’re not solidified in the playoffs, but we’re farther than we’ve ever been, so there’s a lot of anticipation,” Cimpl said. “We’re focused on beating Dordt, and we know we have to do that. If we don’t have the deciding game, you’re not going to move up.”

Last year against Dordt (2-8, 0-8 GPAC), the Tigers were victorious but were not satisfied as they gave up 691 yards and didn’t make the Defenders punt all game.

“From a defensive perspective, there’s some motivation there,” Cimpl said.

Another defensive threat for the Tigers is senior defensive back Matt McManus, a Fulton native, who has a team-high three interceptions.

The Tigers will have to stop junior running backs Courtney Samuel and Lenard Manuel. Manuel leads the Defenders on the ground with 104 carries for 433 yards and five touchdowns. Samuel, today’s starter, has 44 carries for 193 yards and one score. Starting freshman quarterback Zach Barker has completed 22 of 48 passes for 225 yards and seven interceptions. Dordt has averaged 263.9 total offensive yards per game.

“This game is a big task and we’re very much a work in progress with a young team, but there’s no question we have a big challenge,” Dordt head coach Greg Youngblood said.

Senior linebacker Seth Vande Voordt leads Dordt and the GPAC in tackles with 111. He also has an interception, while junior safety Jake Atkinson has made two.

“Seth has been a tremendous player and has led the GPAC in tackles for three years,” Youngblood said. “We’ve got to keep it under control and they’re going to make plays and they can score points fast. They are very explosive offensively.”

The Tiger offense is led by junior running back Francois Barnaud, senior quarterback Jon Bane and senior wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg.

Barnaud leads the GPAC in rushing yards with 1,735 and averages 173.5 yards per game. Bane is second in the GPAC in passing yards with 2,141 and has 22 touchdowns on 168-of-339 passing. Muilenburg is also atop the GPAC in receptions (61) is second in receiving yards with 928.

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Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.
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