Despite the wide gap in the NSIC football standings, motivation is not lacking for either the University of Mary or Minnesota-Duluth today.
For the Marauders, it's their final game in a challenging season. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are in must-win mode as they attempt to squeeze into the NCAA Division II playoffs.
"Obviously, we were hoping for better things in the second half of the season, so that part's been disappointing," said U-Mary head coach Josh Kotelnicki. "We want to go out with our heads held high. Last Thursday, we didn't do that, but we have one more opportunity."
The task is steep today against the 8-2 Bulldogs, who are ranked eighth in the Super Region Four rankings. The top seven qualify for the playoffs.
It's an odd position for coach Curt Wiese, who owns a stellar 51-10 mark at Duluth.
"We're usually in or we're out. Being on the bubble is something new for us," Wiese said. "To have a chance, we need to win, so from that standpoint, we know what we need to do."
On the field, the Bulldogs have few deficiencies. They score a lot (30.3 ppg) and don't give up much (15.7 ppg). They're also No. 1 in the Northern Sun in turnover margin (plus-11).
They also have one of the top playmakers in Jason Baltz (47-830, 7 TDs), the NSIC's top receiver.
"He's a downfield player, but it starts with the type of person he is," Wiese said. "He's a high-character guy."
Duluth features a veteran roster with 18 seniors, including a handful on defense. In their last four games, the Bulldogs have allowed a total of six total points, posting three shutouts.
"They have a fast defense. The dumbest thing you can do against a defense like that is run laterally," Kotelnicki said.
Facing the likes of Duluth is the primary reason Kotelnicki went to the triple-option attack the Marauders feature.
"This is the type of team we made the switch for," Kotelnicki said. "To think you're going to be able to line up and do the same thing everybody else is doing and have success is pretty foolish."
Today's tilt at the Bowl represents the final game for four productive seniors in Brennan Doan, Jacob Parker, Brock Pittsley and Brady Zittleman. Pittsley is going out with a flurry. The Killdeer native ranks third in the NSIC with seven sacks.
Kotelnicki said the team's spirit has remained high through the struggles, and the recent dose of cold weather.
"When its 21 degrees and the sun is going down during practice, that could wreck the week before you get to game time," the head coach said. "It hasn't been a situation where you see heads hanging, or where they're just trying to slog through it. The practices have been upbeat with good energy. I think that says a lot about the kids we have in the program."