MARSHALL - It was a football fan's dream and a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.
Last year's matchup between the University of Mary and Southwest Minnesota State was a game in which resistance truly was futile, with the two teams combining for more than 1,000 yards of offense in the Mustangs' 48-45 victory. A missed 35-yard field goal by Mary with 32 seconds was all that prevented the two teams from surpassing 100 combined points in overtime.
The set up for today's rematch in SMSU's annual Ag Bowl, which kicks off at 5 p.m., gives a strong hint that the two teams could produce similar fireworks.
Coming off wins over Concordia-St. Paul and Augustana in its first two games, the Marauders boast the second-best passing attack in the league. Junior quarterback Craig Bagnell has completed 54 of 89 passes for 768 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Mustang offense also got clicking in last week's last-second win at Northern State. In windy conditions, SMSU's rushing attack accumulated 188 yards on 40 carries, and quarterback Tyler Peschong threw for 225 yards and led a drive in the final minute that set up kicker Lance Schuveiller for a game-winning 26-yard field goal.
The signs point to another shootout, but SMSU head coach Cory Sauter isn't so sure.
"Two years ago (a 21-14 SMSU win) we had a defensive game where it was low scoring and hard to get a first down, let alone score," Sauter said. "Then last year was a shootout, and we didn't expect that type of game at all.
"But Mary is very capable of having those types of games just with their passing game. They're dangerous. They're not afraid to throw it every time if they have to, so it'll be a big test for our defense being able to hold up in the secondary and try to get a good pass rush. We'll have to answer the call on offense as well. If they score, we have to match it, whether that's 14 points or 20 points or 40 points. Our goal is to just score one more point than the other team."
SMSU junior linebacker J.J. Bobrowicz wants to make sure Mary's score stays closer to that 14-20 point range this time around. He led the Mustangs with 10 tackles against NSU, a game in which SMSU held the Wolves to 282 yards of total offense.
Bobrowicz remembers last year's meeting with Mary when the Marauders threw for 403 yards and had 583 yards of total offense. He said the Mustang defense can't let Bagnell get that comfortable again.
"I personally got beat last year a couple of times over the middle and that's something I've been working on. I think I've got that corrected," Bobrowicz said.
"Our defense looks good. We know what we need to do this week. We're flying around, we're picking balls, so there should be a lot of interceptions. Maybe a pick six."
The Mustangs have forced two turnovers through two games this season, both on fumbles by the Wolves last week. Mary, on the other hand, has relied heavily on turnovers in its two wins.
Mary is one of the worst teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in yards allowed, giving up 521 yards per game. They're one of the best, however, in generating turnovers. The Marauders had four interceptions and a fumble recovery in their Week 1 win over C-SP, and they had two picks and a fumble recovery last week against Augustana.
Being the first Mary opponent to gain the big yards and avoid the big turnover total is what the Mustangs hope to accomplish today. They'll look to keep the ball moving and keep the Marauders' high-powered passing attack off the field by controlling time of possession. Statistics indicate they'll have a good chance of doing that. While SMSU has averaged 135 rushing yards in its first two games, the Marauders have just 20 total rushing yards this season.
"The plan this time is to not have that shootout," said SMSU senior running back Gannon Moore, who rushed for 119 yards last week. "If the defense shows up and does what they can do, it's going to be a different game. And if we can establish a running game like we did in the game before, there's no reason we can't walk away with a win."
It doesn't matter how many yards they've given up or how many yards on the ground they've gained, the Marauders are still 2-0. It's their first 2-0 start since the 2006 season. The Mustangs know they're going to be taking on a confident team, and a team that's looking for revenge after losing tight games to SMSU the past two years.
"They'll have a lot at stake on their end," Sauter said. "They'll want to keep their perfect season going and they're going to have to come here and earn it. It should be a great atmosphere."
NOTES: SMSU punter/kicker Mike Wenk is still out with a bone bruise below his knee. ... Mustang wide receiver Britt Wickett is questionable for today's game.