MINNEAPOLIS - For many Southwest Minnesota State football players, today's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game is being contested on a big stage.
The Mustangs (5-4 overall, 3-2 NSIC South) are set to meet the Golden Bears of Concordia-St. Paul (4-5 overall, 2-3 NSIC South) at the Metrodome, an NFL stadium that will be soon laid to rest.
"This will be a fun game for everyone because its a change of scenery for the players and because there is a lot of history in this stadium," SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. "The Metrodome is getting to the end of its final few games. It should mean a lot to the players for having the opportunity to play there."
If Southwest Minnesota State can be successful today, the Mustangs will extend their winning streak to three games after defeating Upper Iowa (52-48) and Winona State (51-44 in OT) the last two Saturdays.
"Concordia has been in a lot of tight games and that makes them a dangerous team," Sauter said. "They have some special players on both sides of the ball, including Zach Moore, who is a big defensive end that could potentially be an NFL prospect."
Moore, as senior, stands 6-foot, 6-inches and weighs 285 pounds. He has made 27 tackles with seven being for lost yardage and five sacks. Moore has recovered two fumbles, broken up two passes and has pressured quarterbacks 10 times this season.
"We always want to know where he's at on the field and it will be a big challenge for us to keep him neutralized," Sauter said.
On defense, the Mustangs are looking to stop running back Tre Spears, who has run for 854 yards and four touchdowns on 181 carries.
"Tre is a very capable running back who can take it the distance," Sauter said. "Concordia has enough high-caliber athletes that can potentially hurt us."
Ronald Zollicoffer (88 rushing attempts, 487 yards, two TDs) is another grounder-gainer SMSU must contain.
Golden Bears quarterback Jared Russo has completed 105 of 181 passes for 1,259 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His top wide receivers include Jermaine Clemon (33 receptions, 265 yards, one TD), Gabe Boyce (27 receptions, 319 yards, three TDs) and Cordell Smith (22 receptions, 381 yards, five TDs).
Concordia-St. Paul's leader in tackles is Josh Trifunov, who has made 80 stops in 2013.
NSIC single-season rushing leader Tyler Tonderum has been a workhorse for the Mustangs. He has piled up 1,751 yards and 17 touchdowns on 262 carries.
In the passing game, junior Charlie Kern has guided SMSU to an efficiency rating of 145.57 this season. He has connected 209 of 327 times for 2,442 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Kern has a wide variety of receivers to whom he can throw. Six different Mustang wideouts have 25 or more catches, including Britt Wickett (43), Anthony Dean (40), Cody Condon (34), Jordan Cross (33), Tonderum (26) and Adam Olson (25).
For two consecutive weeks, interceptions from Donovan Woods and Jared Twedt have secured SMSU victories. They lead the Mustangs with three pickoffs apiece.
Sauter said the SMSU defense has been able to make stops in key situations.
"A defense can give up a lot of yards, but if it can make some stops in the red zone, it really doesn't matter how many yards it allows," Sauter said. "The name of the game is about points. That is where total yardage can be misleading because yards don't always turn into points."
On the defensive line, end A.J. Page has had a huge impact on the Mustangs in 2013. He tops the Mustang list with 92 tackles and leads the NSIC with six sacks. Thirteen of Page's tackles have been for lost yardage.
Other tackle leaders include Tate Bunkers (76), Twedt (66), Blake Pennock (63), J.J. Bobrowicz (57) and Dashawn Miller (50).