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DWU battles Vikings: Tigers end road slate at Midland

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Dakota Wesleyan University's TreVyon McDaniel carries the ball while being tackled by Doane College's Joaquim Robinson during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Oct. 5 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

FREMONT, Neb. -- Dakota Wesleyan University is set for its final road game of the season at 1 p.m. today, in hopes of snapping its five game-losing streak. After narrowly falling to Concordia (Neb.) last week, the Tigers find themselves in a matchup against another team near the bottom of the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Midland (Neb.).

Midland (2-4, 1-3) notched its first GPAC win last week over Hastings (Neb.), while the DWU (1-6, 0-5) is hoping to snap a four-game road losing streak.

Here are three things to watch for when the Tigers and Vikings hit the gridiron.

Lester starts, Nelson dresses

Zachary Lester made his first career start last week, but this is his first time listed as DWU’s starter on its two-deeps. Mitchell native Kiel Nelson will suit up again in case of an emergency, though a shoulder injury keeps him week-to-week.

Lester enters with some momentum after throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns on 28-for-50 passing. He’ll also face the ninth-ranked passing defense in the GPAC, which allows 251.2 passing yards per contest. The Vikings have intercepted nine passes, though, and Lester forced balls into coverage at times against Concordia which picked off one pass.

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Now, it’s about building on his first start.

“Prior to last week, it was preparing a guy to make the right decisions,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “Now we have a game where he did that at times, and maybe didn’t do that at times. Hopefully, making better decisions and those areas where we didn’t deliver the ball on time or throw the ball away. But he also gained more confidence.”

Loudenburg is ‘good to go’

Last week’s 12 rushing yards on 28 attempts continued the downward trend of the ground game during its losing streak, even as Luke Loudenburg returned to the backfield. The Canova native rushed for eight yards on eight carries, but the low workload was in part due to Concordia’s defensive pressure, rather than a nagging injury.

“Luke should be good to go,” Cimpl said.

DWU’s inability to establish the run in GPAC play has put a bigger reliance on the passing game, leading to it scoring 13.2 points per game. While finding a run game is important, it also comes down to play calling and what the defense is giving.

“We want to be able to run the football,” Cimpl said. “But I don’t think you can force it just because you want to be able to run the football. … We have to do a good job play-call-wise and put ourselves in those second-and-medium, third-and-medium situations.”

Midland’s arsenal of weapons

Whoever Midland plugs into its offense seems to produce. Both Noah Oswald, who passed for five touchdowns against Hastings, and Payton Nelson have attempted over 90 passes this season, combining for 16 touchdowns and nine picks on 50.3 percent passing.

It helps that Austan Daniels (457 yards/3 TDs), Austin Harris (392/6) and Dalton Tremayne (218/3) form one of the better receiving trios in the conference. The Vikings also have four 100-yard rushers, including Garry Cannon gaining 487 yards and four touchdowns.

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It’s resulted in Midland being one of three GPAC teams to average at least 30 points per contest (35.7), while also ranking third in total offense (432).

DWU held Concordia to 24 points, but it was just the second time this season it hasn’t allowed 30 points. In fact, every team except Presentation has topped its scoring average against the Tigers.

“Trying to pick and choose when we want to bring pressure, as compared to situations where we’re better suited to play coverage,” Cimpl said. “... We have to pick and choose and be consistent with what you’re doing and what looks you need to be giving.”

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