The University of Mary Marauders (0-4) are coming off a 51-0 defeat at the hands of the Winona State Warriors (3-1), and it won’t be getting any easier for Josh Kotelnicki’s young squad this week with another battle-tested team on the docket.
“No question, it was a tough result [last week],” Kotelnicki, the Marauders coach said. “Our plan going in was to play man-to-man so they don’t run the ball for seven or eight yards. Everybody sees the corner that doesn’t tackle or can’t cover, but what people don’t see is when we don’t win the matchups on the block. You have to get someone off a one-on-one block, and we didn’t win that all game.”
U-Mary will host the Bemidji State Beavers (3-1) at the MDU Resources Community Bowl today at 1 p.m. in a matchup that will once again force an inexperienced Marauders roster to grow up quickly and learn on the fly. The Beavers, who finished just outside the AFCA Top-25 poll this week after losing to No. 12 Sioux Falls on the road, are guided by junior quarterback Jordan Heim and an offense that is currently averaging 41 points per game.
“Bemidji State is one of the oldest, most veteran teams in the conference,” Kotelnicki said. “Just experience wise, you’ll see a lot of veteran players playing even on special teams.
“Their offense has a lot of great weapons, and they execute their scheme well. They have an experienced offensive line, a quarterback that is both a pass and run threat and they just have a lot of pieces in place to be successful — and they have been.”
Heim has thrown for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns on 60.5-percent completion throughout a four-game schedule that has included wins over Upper Iowa, Wayne State and previously No. 6-ranked Minnesota State. Joining Heim in the Beaver backfield, interim coach Brent Bolte’s club boasts a pair of talented running backs in Gena Adams (42 attempts, 344 yards) and Tahi Nomane (62 attempts, 217 yards).
The multidimensional Beavers have also done an impressive job attacking through the air with three wide receivers already posting 10 or more receptions and seven pass-catchers recording at least eight catches through four weeks of action. Senior wide receiver Juwaan Richard leads the aerial attack with team-highs in receptions (18), receiving yards (223) and touchdowns (2).
Defensively, Bemidji State is allowing an average of 23.8 points per game and a per-play average of 5.2 yards. Sophomore cornerback Gunner Olszewski paces the team in tackles with 39. His three interceptions are also tied for the most on the team with fellow defensive back Damon Benham. In total, the Beavers have recorded nine interceptions and recovered two fumbles for a total of 11 turnovers.
It unquestionably will be another difficult test for U-Mary, which has failed to score in three of four games this season, but also a welcomed one as well. As painful as the growing pains may be for Kotelnicki and his staff, the Marauders coach believes that his team has improved this season and will continue to improve with more practice time and game repetitions.
“The biggest thing for us, as young as we are, when we get a look we haven’t practiced it’s debilitating,” Kotelnicki said. “We just don’t have the depth and experience, and even if we did, then executing would still be a concern. I think we have responded pretty well through four weeks this season. We didn’t play well against Augustana, and then the next week, we got a lot of the same looks and responded with our best game of the year against Southwest.
“If we get the same looks we got last week, I feel really good about it. I expect us to be a lot more productive moving forward.”
Efficiency in each phase of the game, better execution in the passing game, sustaining blocks on offense as well as shedding blocks quicker and with more consistency on defense will be critical this week for Kotelnicki’s team. When the clock hits zero, the Marauders coach will hold his team accountable for their performance, but his judgment of how his young roster plays will not necessarily be made by the scoreboard.
“This is a big week because we’re playing another great team and another nationally ranked team,” Kotelnicki said. “I don’t care as much about the result [on the scoreboard] as I do about our team demonstrating improvement and just playing better overall.
“The more game reps we get our young players, the better they will be. The end result may not look like it, but I do believe we are getting better.”