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Dakota Wesleyan University’s wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg, left, running back Francois Barnaud, middle, and quarterback Jon Bane, right, pose for a portrait Wednesday in the Tigers’ locker room. ( Sean Ryan/Republic)

DWU offense lighting up scoreboard

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sports Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
DWU offense lighting up scoreboard
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

These days, the Great Plains Athletic Conference leaderboards look like a who’s-who of Dakota Wesleyan offensive stars, and coaches around the league are losing sleep trying to figure out how to stop them.

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Senior quarterback Jon Bane, junior running back Francois Barnaud and senior wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg are sitting at or near the top of several GPAC statistical categories.

“I’m glad I don’t have to plan against them,” DWU second-year coach Ross Cimpl said, adding he knows going into each game the opposing team will try to take away one facet of the Tiger attack.

Never was this more evident than last week against Hastings, when the Broncos halted the DWU passing game through the first half. With space in the box, Barnaud caught fire, rushing for 249 yards on 32 carries. His day was highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for the Tigers (2-2).

“If teams focus on the passing game, we can run the ball all day,” Barnaud said.

On the ground, Barnaud, a Belle Fourche native, ranks first in the GPAC in total yards, yards per game, touchdowns, total attempts and yards per carry among backs with at least 50 attempts.

“With Fran being able to bust runs at any time, it really opens up for me in the passing game one-on-one,” Muilenburg said about his first year playing with Barnaud in the backfield.

After missing the entire 2012 season with a stress fracture in his back suffered in the first game, Barnaud’s 2013 season is also stacking up against all running backs in the NAIA.

“It was a lot of hard work, but I’ve never felt better physically as far playing goes,” Barnaud said.

Barnaud ranks third in the nation in rushing yards per game (171.3) and second in total rushing yards (685). He is also second in the country in all-purpose yards (800) and 12th in total scoring.

“When he came back this year he was determined to be the best back that he can be,” Cimpl said. “The thing that Fran does extremely well is he understands the blocking scheme. He is able to break the first tackle and the second tackle to get to the secondary.”

What happens when opposing defenses put an eighth or ninth guy in the box to stop the Tiger ground game? Bane and his weapons on the outside take over.

Bane, who is in his fourth year under center for the Tigers, is setting the pace for quarterbacks in the GPAC. He leads the conference in total yards passing (1,282), is tied for first in touchdowns and ranks second in passing yards per game (295.5).

“He is beyond the point of learning the offense and what formation we are in,” Cimpl said. “He’s understanding what it takes to be the quarterback, and he has taken it to the next level in terms of checks and knowing where he needs to go with the ball.”

Bane, a Temple, Texas, native, has many targets to choose from within the DWU offensive scheme, but there is none better in the GPAC than Muilenburg.

After an All-American season in 2011, Muilenburg redshirted last year to recover from an offseason ankle injury. The question on every DWU fan’s mind was would Anthony be as good as he was when he returned?

The answer may be no. He may be better.

The evidence of Muilenburg’s resurgence was on display early this season when the star wide receiver caught seven passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in DWU’s opener. For an encore in week three, he hauled in six receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

“You forget how good he is until you see him back out there again,” Barnaud said. “Teams have to double him and you see what happens if they don’t.”

Muilenburg, a graduate from Sioux Falls Lincoln High School, has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Tigers’ four games this season, bringing his total to seven and tying him for the lead in the GPAC.

“Whatever the defense gives us, that’s what we take,” Muilenberg said. “We can go over the top and if they stop that, it opens it up for Fran to make plays.”

Muilenburg ranks No. 1 in the NAIA in receiving yards per game (127.8) and third in total receiving yards (511).

Cimpl’s admiration for the performance of his three-headed monster on the field is eclipsed only by his appreciation of their work ethic. According to the second-year coach, these three men, along with the rest of his team, have strived to become not only excellent football players, but also men who set a standard for what it means to be a member of the DWU football family.

“I couldn’t ask for a better senior season and it was definitely an expectation for us to have the best offense in the country,” Bane said about the weapons at his disposal. “It’s only going to get better from here.”

With two-thirds of the season still looming, the pace being set by Bane, Barnaud and Muilenburg will be difficult for them to keep up with. But until an opposing defense proves that all three can be shut down on the same day, the Tigers look to continue to put up big numbers.