DWU had crucial responses in first win: Tigers have areas to build on after ending losing skid

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Flashback to Week 1. Dakota Wesleyan University had two turnovers and no answer for Hastings’ (Neb.) offense, as each touchdown extended a mounting lead for the Broncos. DWU coach Ross Cimpl highlighted its lack of response in key situations during a 45-7 opening-week loss.

On Saturday, the lack of response that plagued DWU through the first three weeks went away. It turned the ball over twice, but countered the miscues by forcing four turnovers. When Doane mounted a fourth-quarter comeback, DWU didn’t crumble and watch the deficit grow like in previous weeks. Instead, it thrived.

The Tigers (1-3) ended their three-game losing streak to start the season and five-game skid against Doane (Neb.). They took down Doane, 29-26, in a game that flipped the script of the narrative that riddled their first three weeks.

“I thought our guys for the most part responded when we needed to respond,” Cimpl said. “Not a perfect game, that's kind of what our message was to our guys. We had to work really, really hard to win that game and we did it. That’s a huge positive for our guys. I think it says a lot about our kids in terms of staying with it and continuing to battle.”
It felt different from the start. DWU had 10 first-half points heading into Saturday, but held a 14-13 halftime lead. Daniel Libolt’s 25-yard touchdown grab from Zachary Lester gave it its first lead of the season, 7-0, and Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer caught a 44-yard touchdown pass for the Tigers’ second score of the half.

“I think that kept our guys in it,” Cimpl said. “The emotion on the sideline was there the entire game. … Our guys were able to stay in it mentally and kept playing throughout the game.”


While the noise DWU’s sideline created was noticeable even on the live broadcast, the win is more indicative of not letting a bad play or drive snowball into something worse.

Tate Gale struggled punting into the wind early on, with punts of 12 and 18 yards. Doane wasn’t able to score on either possession, though. Rather, DWU’s first touchdown came a couple of plays after Doane’s punter caught the snap with his knee on the ground.

In the second quarter, Jacob Zamora had his first interception, but Lester was picked off a couple of plays later. Then, Adam DeJong picked off Doane’s Adam Wasserman a second time.

Early in the fourth quarter, Doane took a 26-21 lead, but the Tigers didn’t flinch. Emery native Jamin Arend rushed for his first career touchdown. Zamora and Joshua Garry each had an interception on Doane’s final two possessions to seal the game.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by DWU, but they always had an answer when things went awry.

“As well as we did in responding, there’s still areas of improvement,” Cimpl said. “I think our guys are open to that and were listening to that constructive criticism, and hopefully we can use that going forward.”
DWU can build on an offense that continues to commit more to the pass. It had a season-low 21 rushing attempts, though it still was able to sustain drives for the first time this year. Lester finished 27-for-42 for 232 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His second pick came when he was hit on the throw, though. Neugebauer had a career game with 12 receptions, 139 yards and two interceptions.

Perhaps no area stepped up more than DWU’s front seven on defense. It allowed 47.3 points and 278.7 rushing yards per game in its three losses, and faced a team that gained 320 yards on eight yards per rush a week prior against Hastings.

Even as a 30-yard touchdown run gave Doane a late lead, DWU had its most physical outing of the year and showed the ability to swarm the ball carrier and Wasserman, despite not being credited with a sack. Doane finished with 219 yards on 4.2 yards per carry.


Both teams had chances, but for the first time in 2020, DWU was the team that took advantage.

“We had to work our tails off to get a win, but we did it,” Cimpl said. “And hopefully that can continue to increase the focus and intensity at practices and keep us moving forward.”

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