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Marauders host NSIC power Duluth, looking to take another big step forward

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Several players on Craig Bagnell's recruiting board are likely to play college football games in Bismarck someday.

He's hoping it's in the orange and blue of the Marauders, but in some cases, it might be in the maroon and gold of today's opponent, 19th-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.

Coming off its best win in several years last Saturday at Northern State, the University of Mary football team could take another giant step forward today with a win over the 4-1 Bulldogs not only in the standings, but potentially on the recruiting trail.

"A lot of the kids on our recruiting board have offers from Duluth," Bagnell said. "Duluth is Duluth. It's a great program.

"For us, this is a really, really big game. Teams like Duluth, Mankato, Bemidji, Augustana, Sioux Falls ... there are so many great programs in our conference. To get over the hump, you have to be able to beat the best teams."

The ties between the two programs go right to the top. Bagnell and Duluth offensive coordinator Chase Vogler played against each other in college when both were record-setting quarterbacks at their alma maters and remain friends today.

"Chase and I are pretty good buddies. He texted me last week when we beat Northern," Bagnell said. "I have a lot of respect for him, obviously the same for coach (Curt) Wiese. Their success speaks for itself."

Last week, both teams essentially pulled out last-second road wins -- the Marauders in Aberdeen and Bulldogs in Moorhead. Duluth was without star quarterback (John Nelson) in that game due to injury. However, the Marauders are likely to see the four-year starter today at the Bowl with that intel obtained from a close source.

"I texted Chase and asked if we'd be seeing No. 9 (Nelson) Saturday," Bagnell said. "He said, 'yeah, that's a pretty good bet.'"

To show Duluth's recruiting prowess, the QB who rallied the Bulldogs to victory last week (Logan Graetz), started his career at North Dakota State.

Shiny things, notably facilities, are critical in recruiting. Results, of course, matter too.

"Everybody wants facilities like Northern, but winning definitely helps," Bagnell said. "Our coaching staff does a great job. It's a lot of early, early mornings and late, late nights."

NSIC HONOR

No team in the NSIC, maybe the country, has gotten better quarterback play than the Marauders.

Logan Nelson was named the Northern Sun's Offensive Player of the Week for his 454-yard, six-touchdown performance against Northern.

For the season, the Billings, Mont., native is averaging 342 passing yards per game. He has 19 TD tosses to three interceptions.

"There's a lot of really good quarterbacks in our conference and Logan is right there with any of them," Bagnell said. "He's worked really hard to get where he is. He has a great understanding of our offense. He's tough. He loves the game. When a guy puts in a ton of work and it pays off, you love to see that."

UNSUNG O-LINE

The Marauders have the third-best offense in the NSIC at nearly 470 yards per game. After struggling to run the ball early, they've added that element now, too.

A big key has been the play of the offensive line, which features two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.

True freshman Alec Rodriguez has played particularly well since taking over at center.

"Alec played as Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas," Bagnell said. "That's like playing college football in high school."

Drake Lalim, Conner Paul, Sam Harris and Melvin Hudson round out the offensive line, which also has much improved depth.

"Our offensive line has done a tremendous job and we're young there," Bagnell said. "We really like the progress that group has made as a whole."

DULUTH'S 'D'

The Bulldogs have the No. 1 defense in the NSIC, allowing just 270 yards per game.

They lead the NSIC in sacks (12) due in large part to their creativity.

"They're physical, fast and exotic," Bagnell said. "They play hard, they're relentless. We have to be even more relentless."

Nate Pearson leads the league in sacks with 5.5.

LAST STAND

The Marauders' defense sealed the 49-42 win over Northern by not allowing the high-powered Wolves to score in the fourth quarter. They also held NSU off the board in the opening period.

"The first and fourth quarters were great, the middle two not so much, but it was a really good effort to get stops when we needed them in the fourth quarter," Bagnell said. "This week is no easier. Duluth has really good players all over the field.

"There's no secret to it. We have to play well for four quarters. We've had a really good week of preparation. Our guys are excited to go play."

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

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