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Lockdown defense: DWU holds Saints to 21 rushing yards in shutout win

Dakota Wesleyan University's defense shined in a 44-0 win over Presentation College on Saturday.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Eathen Gaulke, right, tackles Presentation College's Trey Pajimula on Saturday at Joe Quintal Field. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

In Drake’s song “Too Much,” he rapped, “Moment I stop having fun with it, I'll be done with it.”

That’s how Dakota Wesleyan University defensive end Emmanuel Christopher describes the energy he brings to the field. He wags his finger to the sound of a cowbell-ringing Joe Quintal Field crowd and lets out a battle scream at times, too.

The senior is having fun.

But so were the rest of the Tigers on Saturday, especially their defense, which notched a 44-0 shutout win over Presentation College.

“You always hope that (the defense plays well),” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “But you also have to be realistic in that Presentation has some talented kids and they just weren’t able to get them going. I think our guys had a little bit to do with that, and that’s fun to see.”

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DWU’s first shutout since 2013 sticks out like a fly on a wedding cake when considering it ranked ninth in the 10-team Great Plains Athletic Conference in scoring defense (31.6 papg) -- it has allowed 30-plus points per game in each of the last three years -- and total defense (424.8 yapg) last season.

But it also seemed like the culmination of progress in the second year of DWU’s defensive scheme focused on stopping run-pass options. Their speed and emphasis on being a gap-sound defense helped them execute their gameplan of taking away the run, in turn helping a young secondary.

“That’s something we pride ourselves on,” said linebacker Tyler Wagner, who led the team with seven tackles. “Our front seven takes a lot of pride in shutting down the run up front. The DBs do a great job of covering things up.”

The unison between the front seven and secondary has helped eliminate big plays, which became DWU’s Achilles' heel last season. It gave up three touchdowns of at least 30 yards against Dakota State University and Presentation in 2018, but they combined for just one this year.

“We’re staying over the top when that’s our job,” said Mitchell native Mitch Johnson, who had one of DWU’s two interceptions. “That’s the most important thing, because you can’t get beat deep.”

Johnson and the rest of DWU’s secondary was tested more against the Trojans as DWU’s pressure rattled Hunter Giffrow early, who was making his second career start. Presentation’s desire to establish the run was evident, with it running on seven of its first nine plays without picking up a first down.

Even without starting defensive end Alan Murtic, who is nursing an ankle injury, the Tigers’ plethora of options held the Saints to 21 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Their longest run was seven yards.

Despite only recording two sacks, a front seven filled with true freshmen put constant pressure on Giffrow, holding him to 11-for-37 passing for 90 yards as DWU broke up eight passes.

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“It’s weird being a senior because the young guys have the juice,” Christopher said. “They got the speed, they’re giving me a run for my money in conditioning. They’re young but they’re athletic and they’re ready to learn.”

The Tigers are aware that GPAC play is different, though. They have things to clean up heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest at Briar Cliff in Sioux City, Iowa.

DWU didn’t capitalize on a couple of interception chances and committed an offsides and pass interference penalty to keep a third-quarter drive alive for Presentation during its seven-penalty day. Cimpl harps on getting off the field on third down, which the Tigers usually did by holding Presentation to 3-for-17 on third downs.

“GPAC is a whole new beast, a whole new ballgame,” Wagner said. “The standard has been set now and we have to go back to work to practice. The message hasn’t changed week-to-week, we know what we’re capable of. Hopefully we can keep on building.”

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