MARSHALL - There is no time left for losing.
With two games remaining in the season, just two chances left for the Southwest Minnesota State seniors to don the Brown and Gold, a sense of urgency has taken hold of the Mustang football team. Following a 47-20 loss to Winona State that head coach Cory Sauter called the team's worst performance of the season, the SMSU players look to regain the form they showed in a near upset of unbeaten Minnesota State-Mankato and a last-minute win over Upper Iowa.
"[Winona State] out-physicaled us and set the tone early, and we just didn't respond," said SMSU senior quarterback Tyler Peschong, who was knocked out of last week's game at the end of the first play of the fourth quarter when he took a blow to the head on a late hit. "It was difficult to see that, to be a part of that after we had been playing well. We have to come out ready to play and with the right mindset every week, and thank god it wasn't our last game. We have two more chances and we have to make the most of these."
Those first chance begins at 1 p.m. today at Mattke Field when the Mustangs (3-6 overall) host a scuffling Concordia-St. Paul team that is 2-7 on the season. The second is next week's season finale against Augustana (4-5), which is also at home.
Peschong said the Mustangs don't want to replicate the 3-8 season they had a year ago. Not with an experienced offense that returned 10 starters from last year, and not with a defense that wants so show it's a group on the rise.
"I want to end it on a bang, end it on a good note," said senior cornerback Da'Ronte Smith, who had nine tackles in last week's loss. "We've got these last two home games and we just want to do something positive so the team will have great momentum going into next year. That's something I really want to do."
The SMSU defense also wants to make up for the embarrassing showing it had in last year's season finale when it gave up 751 yards, including nearly 500 through the air, in a 60-54 loss to the Golden Bears in the Metrodome.
This year they won't have to deal with wideout Charles Gilbert, who led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in receiving yards last year, or quarterback Spencer Ohm, who threw for seven touchdowns in last year's shootout in Minneapolis. But the Concordia-St. Paul offense is still plenty capable of moving the ball with the arm of sophomore quarterback James Peterson, who ranks third in the conference in passing yards per game (256.8), and his talented corps of receivers.
"They have just some tremendous athletes," Sauter said. "You look at their offense and they've got some great receivers, some big receivers that can run, and their defensive end is a guy that's been a force in this conference [Zach Moore] along with their D-tackle right next to him."
Moore leads the conference in sacks with 10, and CU sophomore linebacker Jordan Halverson is tied for second in the NSIC in tackles with 93.
Though they have some great playmakers on defense, the Golden Bears rank 12th in the NSIC in total defense (421.7 ypg) and 12th in scoring defense (33.3 ppg).
"They're going to blitz quite a bit. They've shown that over the whole season," Sauter said. "They want to bring pressure and force you to make a mistake. They kind of live and die by that, so we'll see how we handle that and hopefully get some big plays off of it."
The Mustangs haven't made many mistakes this season, as they've given up just eight turnovers. That ranks first in the conference. But though they held on to the ball last game against Winona, the Mustangs gave up five sacks and gained just 248 yards of total offense.
Peschong said he will be good to go for today's game after missing most of the fourth quarter of last week's game with a head injury. He's looking to help the Mustangs put up a big game offensively, and though his team is far from the playoff picture, these next two games are vital from Peschong's point of view.
"They're two must-wins in our eyes," Peschong said. "You don't want to end your career on a bad note. You've got two opportunities to make the most of. I just believe that this group, us seniors and the entire team, will come together and finish the season the right way."