It’s hard to get a grasp on Dakota Wesleyan University’s 2019 campaign. Understanding a Rorschach test would be easier.
On one hand, the Tigers suffered consecutive losing seasons for the first time this decade. But a 30-7 season-finale win over Great Plains Athletic Conference foe Hastings (Neb.) on Saturday gave them a better record (3-8, 2-7) than 2018 after ending the season with back-to-back wins.
Look a little deeper and the same problems haunted DWU for much of the season, though.
Its three wins came against teams a combined 5-26, while it gained fewer yards per game (300.1) and allowed more points per game (36). For most of the season, DWU’s defense was porous, giving up 44.1 points per game from Weeks 3 to 10 -- between its shutout of Presentation and Saturday. They allowed that many points in just two games in 2018.
Cimpl harps about 53 of its 70 players being first or second year guys as reason to be excited for the future, but there’s also evident holes that need to be patched.
“Some of those older guys aren’t going to be here after next week in terms of the meeting rooms, the film rooms and the weight rooms,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “... We have to have someone else take the reins. That has to be the focus in the offseason. What do I need to do to increase my game?”
Plenty of true freshmen stepped up as potential options.
Garrett Determan led the team with six receiving touchdowns, running back TreVyon McDaniel showed flashes starting in place of injured Canova native Luke Loudenburg and Hunter Cordell finished with 39 tackles. An offensive line which featured just a pair of seniors also allowed six fewer sacks than a year ago.
“We saw a lot of guys grow up as the season goes on,” Cimpl said.
But for the second straight year, the passing game floundered. It’s partly due to a revolving door featuring three quarterbacks, but it still passed for more than 40 fewer yards per game (196.5).
Mitchell native Kiel Nelson nursed a shoulder injury nearly all season, but had inconsistent results when on the field. He completed 42.6 percent of passes for 791 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Zachary Lester threw eight scores and 1,180 yards on 52.9 percent passing, but also forced passes into coverage.
Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer caught 19 fewer passes than last season, despite being the team’s top playmaker. He was held to three or fewer catches seven times. He and Daniel Libolt combined for just three touchdowns.
“Everybody throws the ball a little bit different,” Cimpl said. “Everybody’s timing is a little bit different. The great quarterback-wide receiver duos you see have been working together for a long time. … We haven’t had that time yet to develop a rapport. Hopefully this winter and this spring we can do that.”
Cimpl believes the final two weeks showed promise, though, even as Nelson was knocked out of the game early in the first quarter against Jamestown (N.D.) after a strong start.
Lester stepped in and threw for 455 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. DWU also converted 15 of 33 third-down attempts.
“Even in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen more consistency,” Cimpl said. “I think that’s why third down we’ve done a better job. We’ve had better situations with receivers in the right spot, quarterbacks in the right spot and protecting it. If all those things come together, we have a shot.”