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Dakota Wesleyan's defense finds confidence early in new football season

In two games, the Dakota Wesleyan football team has allowed only nine points and held opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

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Dakota Wesleyan's Cody Reichelt tackles Mount Marty's William Rauch in the backfield during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 at Crane-Youngworth Field in Yankton. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

The Dakota Wesleyan University football team's defense might have found its niche early in the season.

DWU has held their opponents to just nine points in the first eight quarters of the season. The Tigers held Dakota State in week one to 77 yards rushing and in week two, they held Mount Marty to 96 yards on the ground.

DWU head coach Ross Cimpl said the new defensive staff and everything they have implemented has flourished so far to begin this season and they have done a good job putting the players in position to succeed.

“Based on how their teaching guys throughout the week, the drills they’re having them do and being able to execute a scheme has really worked well,” Cimpl said.

It started last season when Dakota Wesleyan made Alex Foster its defensive coordinator after the 50-14 loss to Midland at home. He was the defensive coordinator for the remainder of the 2020 season and DWU went 3-1 in its last four games. In those four games, the Tigers defense held three of those four opponents to under 20 points and under 100 yards rushing.

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Dakota Wesleyan also added defensive backs coach Joe Dinan, as well as defensive line coach Taylor Summers before coming into the 2021 season. The new staff implemented a four-man front, which Cimpl said is a move away from the team's traditional three-man defensive line.

“One new thing that we have this year is adding another defensive lineman on the field, which is something we haven’t done here in the past,” Cimpl said.

The scheme makes one more player on the field responsible for the run game. DWU’s focus is always to stop the run, but committing to stop the run is part of the confidence Cimpl has in his secondary.

While Cimpl also lauded the team's defensive line group — Kevin Riu, Ethan Engen, Trey Bohlmann, Dominick Warmbein and Samuel Henderson — for doing their jobs to allow the team's linebackers to go make plays.

“Our linebacker group gets a lot of attention and they deserve that, but the defensive line is doing a nice job with the run game allowing our linebackers to just run at the ball and make plays,” Cimpl said. “Our defensive backs are doing a nice job of getting things covered up in the back half so if we are bringing pressure, our guys have some time to work their pass rush moves and pressure the quarterback because guys aren’t open right away.”

The new coaching adjustments have been implemented on a team that retained 10 of its 11 starters defensively and the cohesiveness might be at an all-time high for the Tigers.

“I think the thing that’s really worked well for the guys on the field is that there’s a lot of experience and you see those guys just playing together and really understanding where everybody’s going to be and guys are trusting each other,” Cimpl said.

Defensive players like Cody Reichelt and Adam DeJong have benefited from this new defensive scheme. Reichelt has 22 tackles and two sacks, while DeJong has 14 tackles throughout the first two games. DeJong had a total of 38 tackles last season and is on pace to surpass that mark by mid-October.

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Dakota Wesleyan is currently in the midst of its bye week and Cimpl said his team practiced Monday through Thursday, which is one extra day of practice that they normally would have. The team has the weekend off and doesn’t play again until Sept. 18 against Midland in Fremont, Neb.

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Dakota Wesleyan's Cale Strong tackles Mount Marty's Trevor Fitzgerald in a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 at Crane-Youngworth Field in Yankton. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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