MARSHALL - The Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs have been near the .500 mark for much of this season.
SMSU (4-4 overall, 2-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South) has a chance to go above .500 today, when it hosts Winona State (5-3, 3-1) in a league game on Senior Day at The Schwan Regional Event Center.
"We want or seniors to go out in a positive way during our last home game of the season," Mustangs head coach Cory Sauter said. "But it's going to come down to having our kids ready to play and I think we are ready. The bottom line is that we are going to have to execute and play with a high level of intensity."
Southwest Minnesota State could secure its fifth win of the year. A fifth victory would eclipse last season's total of four, when the Mustangs went 4-7. SMSU closes its schedule with a pair of road games vs. Concordia-St. Paul at the Metrodome next Saturday and at Augustana on Nov. 16.
Mustangs junior quarterback Charlie Kern returned to the starting lineup last Saturday to help Southwest Minnesota State earn a 52-48 NSIC South victory at Upper Iowa. Kern, who suffered a knee injury in the second half against Minnesota State on Oct. 19, connected with 25 of his 33 passing attempts for 248 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He has 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions on 189 completions of 294 attempts and 2,145 yards this season.
Running back Tyler Tonderum returned to form last Saturday at Upper Iowa. He ran for 282 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday at Upper Iowa to set school records for carries (50) in a game and rushing touchdowns in a season (15). Tonderum was limited to 61 yards and no touchdowns on 19 carries versus Minnesota State.
Tonderum, a junior who has five straight 100-yard games, is the only player in SMSU history to have four 200-yard games in a single season. His 1,518 yards on the ground, which ranks second in NCAA Division II, has helped the Mustangs gain 2,069 rushing yards, which is a new SMSU record for a single season. He is 50 carries and 68 yards away from becoming the NSIC record-holder for carries in a season and yards in a season.
Tonderum will be running against a Winona State defense that is ranked 103rd against the run (173.9 yards per game) and 141st in total defense (455.9). SMSU's offense ranks fifth in NCAA Division II with 549.2 yards per game and 21st in the nation with 39.5 points per game.
"I think Winona State is a team that, statistically, they are not at the top of conference and at the bottom in some defensive categories. But on film, it doesn't match up because they are pretty athletic," Sauter said. "Winona State will present some issues because they have good athletes who can play man-to-man coverage. They also have some twists and stunts inside that can make the run game pretty tough to operate."
The Mustangs have six wideouts with 22 or more receptions, including Anthony Dean (39), Britt Wickett (37), Jordan Cross (30), Cody Condon (30), Tonderum (24) and Adam Olson (22).
The Warriors will counter with Chichi Ojika, who is 32nd among NCAA Division II runners, with 839 yards and seven touchdowns on 138 carries. Quarterback Jack Nelson has 18 touchdowns and six interceptions on 108 of 191 passing for 1,943 yards. Josh Mikes (25 receptions, 577 yards, six TDs), Alan May (21 receptions, 412 yards, four TDs) and Cameron Johnson (17 recpetions, 278 yards, three TDs) are Winona State's top wideouts.
WSU will be working against a Mustangs defense that allows 444.9 yards and 37.8 points per game. The Wildcats average 39.5 points and 445.2 yards per game on offense.
The Wildcats defense is led by Patrick Lazzara (61 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble) and Morgan Weaver (53 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries).
NSIC leader and SMSU defensive end A.J. Page tops the Mustangs defense with 81 tackles, six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and one interception. He sits atop the league in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. Tate Bunkers adds 60 tackles for SMSU.
"We didn't play well, defensively, against Upper Iowa, but part of that was what we did and the other part was what they were trying to do against us," Sauter said. "Upper Iowa has a pretty good offense. But, as bad as it was for a while, it didn't affect the way our defense played on the last series. We put them in a bad situation with a blocked punt, but our defense was able to rise to the occasion to make a key interception at the end of the game."
NOTE: Today is the final home game for 15 Mustang seniors, who, along with family members, will be honored prior to the game. The players include J.J. Bobrowicz, Tate Bunkers, Cody Condon, Anthony Dean, Kyle Hahn, Adam Iversen, Kyle Johnson, Justin Knakmuhs, Dashawn Miller, Brandon Puffer, Lance Schuveiller, Alex Sedrel, Jake Thiel, Britt Wickett and Brad Wiest.