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Streaking Tigers ready for No. 1 Morningside

Dakota Wesleyan University football coach Ross Cimpl knows his team will have to be mistake free when the Tigers take on the top-ranked Morningside Mustangs at 1 p.m. today at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell.

“They don’t turn the ball over much and we have to take advantage of those opportunities when they come up,” Cimpl said. “We need to hold on to the football. They don’t need our help putting the ball in the end zone.”

The Tigers (4-2, 3-1 GPAC) are rolling, having won their last three games, including a 31-20 win last week over No. 20 Doane on the road.

DWU sits third in the Great Plains Athletic Conference behind Morningside (5-0, 4-0 GPAC) and Concordia (Neb.). This week, the Tigers received votes in the NAIA coaches’ poll for the first time this season after their win over Doane.

Morningside has led in the polls all season, as the Mustangs are attempting to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country. Morningside has not lost since falling in the NAIA national championship game to Marion in overtime last season.

“They aren’t unbeatable,” DWU wide receiver Mitch Breen, a Wagner native, said. “If we execute our game plan, I feel like we can play with them.”

The Mustangs are led by junior quarterback Ryan Kasdorf, who leads the GPAC with 288 passing yards per game. DWU quarterback Jon Bane sits second in passing at 239 yards per game.

“They rush for a million yards and they throw for a million yards,” Cimpl said. “We have to stop their run game because we have to be able to get to the quarterback, and you can’t do that if guys are running the ball all over the place.”

Brandon Wegher leads Morningside’s ground game with 89 yards per game, while Kasdorf averages 48 yards from the quarterback position.

The DWU ground game could be the key for Cimpl’s troops today. Francois Barnaud will look to continue the torrid pace he is setting on the ground. The Belle Fourche native leads the country in rushing at 184.3 yards per game. Barnaud left the game against Doane last week with what Cimpl described as a bad bruise to his abdomen, but the running back is expected to be ready for today’s game.

All of DWU’s offensive weapons will be needed to keep up on the scoreboard. The Mustangs are scoring 51 points per game this season, which is second best in the country.

It is not just the Morningside offense that causes concerns for DWU. The Mustang defense is allowing just 12.4 points and 259.2 yards per game through five games.

“We’ve got to put points on the board and to do that our offense has to be on the field,” Cimpl said about trying to keep pace with the Mustangs. “Our defensive line has to play well to make sure they are taking on blocks to free up the linebackers.”

Brady Bonte leads the Tiger defense in tackles, averaging nine per game for fifth in the GPAC. Emphasis will be placed on Bonte and his teammates to take advantage of opportunities to get off the field.