“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy Tomjanovich
Greetings, Lion fans, and it’s that time again. A place with which they’ve become familiar, the NCAA Division 2 playoffs. This time, the Lions come in as the defending champion. They have had their problems on offense, from being unsettled at quarterback to many self-inflicted penalties. A new system on defense. The list could go on.
Now, all that matters is 5 games. 5 wins brings home a title. The hardest thing to do in sports is for a team to repeat after they’ve been to the top. Time after time in the past two seasons, though, this team has continue to defy expectations. As I asked last season- Why not us?
Let’s take a closer look…..
OVERVIEW- Minnesota-Duluth comes in at 11-0, and the Champions of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s North division. #1 Minnesota State-Mankato is the Champion of the South Division, but there was no interdivisional play. The Bulldogs are currently ranked at #5 in the AFCA poll, while the Lions are #15.
The composite record of the Bulldogs schedule is 53-68 (4-6 average), while the Lions are at 54-62 (4-5 average). Both teams have played 5 teams with winning records. The Lions, however, have played three ranked teams ( #6 Tarleton State, #9 CSU-Pueblo, and #16 Midwestern State ), while the Bulldogs have no ranked teams on their schedule .
TALE OF THE TAPE-
Rushing- 154.2 ypg
Passing- 225.8 ypg
Total- 380.0 ypg
Skills Positions Average- 6’2″ 208 lbs.
Offensive Line Average- 6’3″ 278 lbs.
Turnover Differential- -8
Points- 10.5 ppg
Rushing- 58.8 ypg
Passing- 140.5 ypg
Total- 199.3 ypg
Front Seven Average- 6’1″ 240 lbs.
Secondary Average- 6’0″ 181 lbs.
Turnover Differential- +5
CAST OF CHARACTERS- The Lions continue to be led on offense by quarterback Kane Wilson, with 122 completions in 199 attempts for 1,636 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Wilson also has 9 rushing TD’s to lead the Lions.
The hallmark of the Lion offense can be summed up in one phrase Spread the Wealth. Ovie Urevbu leads a surprisingly potent Lion rushing attack with 706 yards in 113 attempts with 5 touchdowns. Carandale Hale has contributed 574 yards in 107 attempts, also with 5 touchdowns. Nate Davis has been a very pleasant surprise, with 200 yards in 42 attempts, with 2 TD’s.
The “spread the wealth” theme continues with the receiving corps. Marquis Wimberly leads with 50 catches for 674 yards and 7 touchdowns, followed by Ryan Stokes with 30 receptions for 516 yards and 4 touchdowns. Vincent Hobbs, arguably the best tight end in all of Division 2, despite constant double teams, and nagging injuries, has managed 25 receptions for 247 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Matt Childers, who has done a little bit of everything this year(throwing a TD pass, and catching another), checks in with 24 catches for 236 yards, and a touchdown. Chance Cooper contributes 20 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs are led on defense by free safety Bill Atkins with 48 tackles (31 solo), followed by inside linebacker Gus Weidig with 45 tackles (32 solo), and strong safety Sam Lynch with 43 tackles (29 solo). Defensive back Tareq Abulebbeh has 5 interceptions to lead Duluth, while outside linebacker Alex Helmer leads in sacks with 10.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS- For once, the Lions enjoy a size advantage on offense. While the numbers for the Bulldogs are impressive, they seem to have come against less of a schedule than that of the Lions.
Make no mistake, though. The Bulldogs are a plus 5 in turnover differential, and will be out to continue that trend, and give their offense a short field with which to work. Alex Helmer has been a threat to opposing quarterbacks with 10 sacks. They have a ball hawking secondary with 9 interceptions. There’s a reason they are 11-0, and ranked #5. They will be a strong challenge.
It is a challenge that the Lions are familiar with. Not only from the opponent, but from the weather. A high of 21 degrees, with a low of 12 is expected for Saturday. Fortunately for the Lions, no participation is expected. They have been there before.
As I mentioned earlier, the hardest thing to do in sports is to repeat as a champion (thanks to Billy Minor for reminding me of that). This is the first step in five for a chance to repeat as a National Champion. Can the Lions pull it off? This Saturday, we get a chance to see. I am reminded of something that Rudy Tomjanovich, the coach of the NBA’s Houston Rockets said after the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Rockets repeated….
DON’T EVER UNDERESTIMATE THE HEART OF A CHAMPION!
See You Saturday.