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DWU prepares for season with fall scrimmage

Dakota Wesleyan University had a top-10 offense and a bottom-10 defense last year, but on Thursday night during the Tigers' fall scrimmage, the script was flipped. The defense won 25-24 -- points were given when a team forced a turnover, got a fi...

Dakota Wesleyan University's Na'hoku Agor, right, takes down DWU's Daniel Libolt after a reception during a scrimmage on Thursday night at the DWU practice field. DWU opens their season on Thursday against Dakota State University at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan University's Na'hoku Agor, right, takes down DWU's Daniel Libolt after a reception during a scrimmage on Thursday night at the DWU practice field. DWU opens their season on Thursday against Dakota State University at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Dakota Wesleyan University had a top-10 offense and a bottom-10 defense last year, but on Thursday night during the Tigers’ fall scrimmage, the script was flipped. The defense won 25-24 -- points were given when a team forced a turnover, got a first down, etc.

“We wanted to get our first-group guys some reps early then get them out of here,” head coach Ross Cimpl said. “In terms of taking reps and evaluating our second and third team guys, we’re a week away from a game and we need to find out who those role players are.”

The Tigers focused on specific game situations during the scrimmage. The offense started on its own 20 at times, then moved across the field to work on red zone scenarios. On special teams, the team practiced kickoffs, punts, field goals and onside kicks.

Despite starters only playing a few possessions, Trey DeCroock made an immediate impact by forcing a fumble on the first play from scrimmage. It was the first of three turnovers from the defense as redshirt-freshman linebacker Eli Miller wrestled a pass away from a receiver for an interception later in the scrimmage.

“To be honest with you, I thought I was going to get burnt,” Miller said. “I just kept running and went in front and got the interception. I just held on as long as I could until my arms gave out.”

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Nate Rupprecht also intercepted Danny Strande on an underthrown ball near the end of the scrimmage.

In limited action, Shaye Slaughter threw a few passes to covered receivers and showed his quickness to avoid a collapsing pocket.

However, the attention was mostly on Strande and Zach Lester, who are competing for the backup spot. Due to a tough defense, neither was able to get into a rhythm for most of the scrimmage. Cimpl said neither has the lead in the quarterback race.

The defensive line put continuous pressure on the quarterbacks, which included a sack by Sawyer Hughes, and tight coverage by the secondary made completions hard to come by.

“Defense came firing off the ball really fast, and they were flying around,” Lester said. “... They were pressuring a lot. They were finding the weak spots in our pass pro. I thought they came out with a lot more energy at first.”

Spencer Neugebauer and Jace Pulse didn’t see much playing time, which gave Trevor Mann and Myles Burkink more opportunities. Lester completed three passes to Mann on one drive, while Burkink also had multiple catches.

“(Mann’s) someone we’re really relying on to be a big-time role guy for us and take a lot of meaningful snaps,” Cimpl said. “When he’s in the game, he’s got to make plays. He’s a tough kid who we’re excited to see what he can do and what he can add to our offense.”

Even with a few drops sprinkled in, Cimpl was still pleased with how his receivers played. He said Kyreice Miller and Shayden Neptune looked more confident and comfortable within the offense.

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Special teams had its up-and-downs, as well. The unit had a couple of poor snaps and missed an extra point. Jaden Bloemendaal returned a kickoff for a touchdown to highlight the unit’s night.

After the game, the message from Cimpl and players was the same.

“I feel like the scrimmage went good,” Miller said. “Both offense and defense did great. Our offense is new, our defense is building and we’re both building as a team. We can’t wait for the season.”

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