DWU finished 6-4 record for second straight season
First-year Dakota Wesleyan University football coach Ross Cimpl gave his team a B to a B-minus when assessing the 2012 season in grade form.
The Tigers, for the second straight year, finished 6-4 overall and 5-4 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. They finished in a three-way tie with the fourth-best record in the league.
"If you're looking at a 5-5 season being just average and a C being average, I think we were a little above," Cimpl said. "We're a little above average, but not quite where we need to be."
Cimpl picked up his first win as a collegiate head coach on Sept. 1 when DWU defeated in-state rival Dakota State 40-14 at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. The Tigers rattled off three straight wins to open the season but suffered a 40-30 loss at Hastings for their first GPAC defeat of the year.
Wesleyan also lost to Morningside and Northwestern, which finished first and second in the league and each qualified for the NAIA playoffs. In the two games combined, the Tigers were outscored 104-20.
"If you look at the scores, we weren't competitive in those games," Cimpl said. "We have some work to do. ... We've taken some big time steps going forward with a lot of guys who were inexperienced coming into this year and we're going to count on going forward.
"Really, it's going to depend on how quickly we can fix some of the rookie mistakes we made during the season. The sooner that happens, the better and closer we are with competing with the top two teams in the conference."
As high points in the season, Cimpl pointed to a road win over Concordia and a home victory against Doane, which finished third in the league. The Tigers won the two games by a combined seven points.
Wesleyan didn't have one dominant aspect in its game this season, but leaned a bit more on its offense to finish just over .500.
The Tigers had the top running back in the conference in senior Josh Endres, who averaged 130 rushing yards per game. Junior quarterback Jon Bane was third in the league in total offense per game at 233 yards per game and sophomore wideout Arthur Brown was third in the conference in receptions per game. Brown finished with 579 yards on the season with 54 catches and six touchdowns.
Endres led the team in total scoring with 60 points, senior tight end Derek Carlson was second with nine touchdowns and 54 points and Brown and freshman kicker Dan Porter each contributed 36 points.
DWU loses Endres to graduation next year, but returns Bane, Brown and will likely get All-American wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg back after he sat out the season recovering from ankle surgery. The Tigers return four of five starting offensive linemen and lose only left tackle Nathan Little.
"I think offense is where most of our experience is coming back," Cimpl said. "A lot of experience and a lot of playmakers will be coming back for us."
Wesleyan gave up 28 points and 415 yards per game, both fourth-worst in the 10-team league.
Senior linebacker Mike Barnaud led the team with 108 tackles, while freshman linebacker Brady Bonte was second with 96. Senior safety Dustin Bergmeier had a team-high four interceptions and sophomore linebacker Anthony Cervantes had four sacks.
Dakota Wesleyan loses 14 seniors and Cimpl said there are other players who could graduate early and will not return to the team next year despite having more eligibility. Cimpl said during the offseason, he'll prioritize adding offensive and defensive linemen while recruiting.
"I think at times we got run a little ragged on the D-line and O-line," he said.
After giving his team a B to a B-minus grade for the season, Cimpl graded himself the same "and maybe a bit lower" in looking at his performance in his first year at the helm.
"I look back at some games where I made some bad calls and those things cost us," Cimpl said. "Those are the kind of things that shouldn't happen whether you're a first-year head coach or not. ... In terms of a grade, I would put myself right where I put the team because the team is a reflection of the head coach. There are things I need to improve on and get better at."
Cimpl is the first guy to lead his team to a winning record in his first year as head coach at Dakota Wesleyan since Tom Long accomplished it in 1978. That year, the Tigers went 5-4-1.
"A lot of people said that we were going to have a rebuilding year this year," he said. "If our rebuilding year is 6-4, we feel good about our start, but we're not satisfied."