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High-powered Marauders face another stingy NSIC defense

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There are 163 schools playing D-II college football these days. Only 23 average more yards per game than the University of Mary.

The Marauders' 446 yards per game have come against a cupcake-free schedule, featuring a .667 opponents' winning percentage. Few of the teams ahead of them in total offense can say that, undoubtedly.

"I'm never gonna be the guy that complains about the schedule. To get where we want to go, you have to beat everybody in your conference," U-Mary head coach Craig Bagnell said. "Our league is really good. That's no secret. I think we've proven we can compete against really good football teams. Nobody is satisfied with just that. We still need to get over the hump." 

Another hurdle looms today in Sioux Falls against the 4-2 Cougars, who have played a more favorable schedule through six weeks. It's not a soft 4-2, however. Sioux Falls is perennially among the Northern Sun's best.

This year's version is big, similar to 22nd-ranked Augustana, and relies heavily on the run. Thuro Reisdorfer ranks No. 2 in the conference in yards (527) and is first in average per carry (7.1)

"They're really big and strong," Bagnell said of Sioux Falls. "They're physical. This is going to be a fist fight."

Sioux Falls likes to possess the ball, which would come in handy against the Marauders' explosive passing attack, currently ranked No. 3 in Division II at 350 yards per game.

"We need to get them off the field. We can't let them chew up the clock with long drives," Bagnell said. "We need to find a way to create some takeaways and get some extra possessions."

Defensively, the Cougars allow only 20 points per game, with few discernible weaknesses. It's the second straight top defense the Marauders have faced. Last week against 18th-ranked Duluth, the Marauders totaled 360 yards in a narrow four-point loss.

CHART-TOPPER

Star wideout Danny Kittner continues to lead the NCAA in multiple receiving categories.

Kittner is No. 1 in yards (983) and touchdowns (12). As good as Kittner is, teams can’t worry about only him. Luke Little’s nine TD catches rank third in the NCAA.

“Our staff does a really good job each week coming in with new ideas on how to get those guys the ball,” Bagnell said. “We feel good about our plan this week. We’ve had a really good week of practice.”

Quarterback Logan Nelson is sixth in the country in pass yards per game (326) and third in touchdown passes (22).

The Marauders’ ground game also has taken off. Dave Small has more than 100 yards rushing in three of the last four games.

IMPROVED IN THE BACK

The Marauders are not the only team with high-end receiving talent in the NSIC.

Six teams average 270 or more yards passing, meaning there are lots of good quarterbacks and receivers.

Strong secondaries are required and the Marauders have made major progress in that regard despite losing starter and captain Brannon Flowers, who was lost early in preseason camp with a leg injury.

Isaiah Pittman, a redshirt freshman from Glendale, Ariz., has two interceptions, four pass breakups and trails only Tylen Small in tackles, 45-40.

"Isaiah has played really well. He's made a ton of progress," Bagnell said. "He's a kid with a really bright future."

Twin brothers Ty'Rese and Ty'Rhae Gibson have played well on the edges. Ty'Rhae has a team-best six pass breakups. Ty'Rese has one INT.

"We feel like we've done a good job in recruiting," Bagnell said. "Not just in terms of talent, but kids that want to play football, want to lift weights, want to practice and work hard.

"The kids we have now are committed. They're prepared and they're excited to play."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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