What a week it’s been for the Dakota Wesleyan University football team.
Coming off its first win of the season, its next game against Concordia (Neb.) was postponed to Nov. 21 due to positive COVID-19 tests on the football team. While still shorthanded and having a couple of practice days wiped out as it quarantined, the Tigers return to Joe Quintal Field for a 1 p.m. contest today against Midland (Neb.).
DWU practiced on Thursday -- the same day it announced the postponement of its game -- but it was more of a scrimmage with the players still available. It didn’t suit up again until Tuesday, and will be without several players today, including two key starters in starting quarterback Zachary Lester and left tackle T.J. Benton.
“Maybe one guy unfortunately has a positive test and we have to get that next guy ready to go,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “But how many other people did it affect? That’s the different part (compared to a normal injury). You never know who’s going to be out, who’s going to be in, who was sitting too close to each other. You can’t plan for it.”
Key starters out for Tigers
Lester and Benton are both in isolation, while starting linebacker Tziah Owens is dealing with a neck issue. Freshman Andrew Kortemeyer gets the start at left tackle and Mitchell native Kiel Nelson will return to his starting role at quarterback.
Nelson opened his freshman year as the Tigers’ starter, but was replaced with Lester this season. He has appeared in two games this year, going 4-for-8 for 97 yards and rushing for 34 yards on six attempts. His legs add a new dynamic to the offense.
“He’s got a little different set of tools at his disposal, being able to run the ball a little bit,” Cimpl said. “The scheme potentially changes a little bit to suit what he can do. We’ll see how everybody else handles that.”
Backup Jimmie Garewal has also appeared in two games this year, completing 4 of 8 passes for 23 yards and a touchdown. He more resembles Lester’s skillset than Nelson, but despite playing two quarterbacks against Dordt (Iowa) in Week 3, Cimpl hopes to stick with Nelson solely on Saturday.
“Right now the plan is for Kiel to get things taken care of,” Cimpl said. “If we need to make that decision, if things aren’t going well, we will. Right now, Kiel is the guy we’re planning on playing and getting the job done for us.”
Midland’s top-tier defense
Nelson will face one of the top defenses in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, as the Warriors have allowed 10 points in their last three games. Midland outscored Briar Cliff (Iowa) and Hastings (Neb.) 99-3 in the past two weeks, which includes intercepting Briar Cliff quarterback John Bell six times.
It ranks third in the GPAC in scoring defense (16.8) and total defense (330.5).
“Playing with the lead … that lets them pin their ears back, bring their pressure, confuse the looks and mix up their looks defensively,” Cimpl said. “They’re creating turnovers, they fly around and they’re going to get in your face. They’re physical.”
For DWU’s defense, it’s about continuing to find depth at linebacker. Mitchell native Cody Reichelt remains without a timetable and Owens is dealing with a neck issue. Owens is second on the team with 25 tackles and leads the team with 2.5 tackles for loss.
DWU moved safety Jacob Schafer to outside linebacker when Reichelt went down to add depth.