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Tigers set for GPAC clash against Nebraska Wesleyan

Dakota Wesleyan University running back Francois Barnaud evades a tackler during a game against Hastings College earlier this season. (Republic file photo)

There will be trench warfare today in Mitchell as the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers take on Nebraska Wesleyan University at 1 p.m. at Joe Quintal Field.

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The matchup puts the Great Plains Athletic Conference’s second-best run defense in the Prairie Wolves against the league’s second-best run offense in the Tigers (5-3, 4-2 GPAC).

“We are going to go and give it our all,” DWU tight end Cody Duerksen said. “We are going to run the ball and pass it on them. We are a really good offense and it will be a test. We are very excited to go against a defense like this to prove that we have a good offense.”

The senior Parker native will be looked upon to provide support in the run game as well as the pass game. Duerksen has two touchdown receptions this season, which is the third highest total of any DWU pass catcher.

Duerksen and the rest of the DWU offensive line aim to open holes for running back Francois Barnaud, who is coming off a 257-yard rushing performance last week against Midland University. The running back, who set the school’s single season rushing record last week, comes into the contest with a NAIA leading 1,377 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.

DWU head football coach Ross Cimpl said running the football well is essential to his squad’s success.

“We are comparing this to a heavyweight fight where it will be punch for punch,” Cimpl said. “Defensively, they are going to do some good things and we have to fight to keep our offense on the field and stop their offense.”

The Prairie Wolves (4-3, 4-2 GPAC) will rely primarily on their defensive line to slow down Barnaud and the Tiger run game. Leading the defensive charge for NWU is senior lineman Taylor TeKolste and junior lineman Phil Latimer.

TeKolste has 54 tackles and six sacks in seven games, while Latimer has 45 tackles, 10 for loss and 3.5 sacks. The pair must slow the run and disrupt Tiger senior quarterback Jon Bane.

The fourth-year starter comes into the game as the conference’s second-best passer. The quarterback has completed 139 of 278 passes for 1,866 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Bane’s main targets are wide receivers Anthony Muilenburg and Arthur Brown.

Muilenburg, a senior from Sioux Falls, leads the GPAC in catches with 49 and ranks second in yards and touchdowns with 829 and 12, respectively. Brown, a junior, has caught 27 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns.

NWU head coach Brian Keller said his defense has a tough task in covering all of DWU’s offensive weapons.

“DWU is a tough offense to play because if you try to load up and stop the run, they are going to kill you with the pass, so we need to come prepared,” he said.

When the Prairie Wolves have the ball, look for senior running back Dustin Bryant to carry the load. He ranks third in the GPAC with 569 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 114 carries.

NWU junior quarterback Tyler Francis looks to record his second straight 200-yard passing game. Last week, he completed 22 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Francis has completed 132 of 239 passes for 1,313 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Francis’s go-to receiver is junior Connor Zumpfe, who has hauled in 26 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns.

Attempting to stop the Prairie Wolves’ offense is the Tiger defense, which is led by senior defensive back Matt McManus and linebacker sophomore Brady Bonte.

McManus, a Fulton native, leads the Tigers with a team-leading two interceptions and 45 tackles, while Bonte leads the team in tackles and sacks with 71 and six, respectively.