MITCHELL, S.D. – Fast starts have become something of a trend for the Dakota Wesleyan University football team.
In 2010, the Tigers started the season 3-0 for the first time in Great Plains Athletic Conference history before ending the season 5-5. Last year, Dakota Wesleyan took that a step farther. The Tigers started the 2011 season 5-0 for the first time since DWU went undefeated in 1992 before ending the year with a 6-4 mark.
Dakota Wesleyan was at the top of the conference through the first half of the season and made it all the way to No. 13 in the NAIA Top 25 Coaches’ Poll on Oct. 10, but lost a pair of games by a combined seven points and went 1-4 in its last five games.
In 2012, the Tigers are looking for consistency throughout the season, and a strong finish to go with another solid start.
The Tigers start the 2012 season Saturday, Sept. 1, when they host in-state rival Dakota State University for a nonconference matchup starting at 7 p.m. at Joe Quintal Field. This marks the first home night game for Dakota Wesleyan in several seasons, and just their second nonconference game since the 2004 season.
DWU opened the season against the Trojans in 2011, and got the year started with a 56-20 win in Madison, S.D. First-year head coach Ross Cimpl is hoping this year’s opener goes the same.
The team’s top quarterback, wide receiver and running back return to lead a talented Tiger offense. Quarterback Jon Bane is back for his junior season and receiver Anthony Muilenburg and running back Josh Endres are both back for their senior seasons. Bane, a junior from Rogers, Texas, helped the Tigers set the school record for passing offense in a season (2,944) in 2012, and set the school’s individual single-season passing offense record with 2,817 yards. He is also in the top 10 in the school record book for career passing yards and career total offense.
Bane and Muilenburg teamed up to set the record for longest pass/reception at 99 yards, and Muilenburg – who is in the top 10 for career receiving yards, receptions and scoring and single-season receiving yards and receptions – set the record for receiving yards in a game with 233. Muilenburg earned AFCA All-American honors as a junior in 2011, as well as All-GPAC First Team Offense and Second Team Special Teams honors for his play as a punt return specialist.
Endres returns as the leader of the Tigers’ running game. He earned All-GPAC First Team honors as a junior and ran for 891 yards. He is currently third on the school’s career scoring chart after three seasons.
Lining up to create holes for Muilenburg and Endres are senior offensive lineman Nathan Little and junior Eric Witte. Little earned first team all-conference accolades as a junior, and Witte earned honorable mention status as a sophomore in 2010 before sitting out the entire 2011 season with an injury. Sophomore Spencer Bloch will compete for time on the line along with freshmen Austin Schroeder and Ryan Zdroik and junior Skyler Eriksen. Also back is sophomore Kyle Hencke, who started every game as a true freshman.
Defensively, linebackers Mike Barnaud and Jeff Maassen look to keep DWU’s opponents in check. Barnaud, a senior from Belle Fourche, S.D., led the team with 82 total tackles and 7.5 sacks last season, and also recorded 11.5 tackles for a loss and earned All-GPAC Second Team Defense honors. Maassen earned honorable mention accolades as a true freshman after finishing second on the team with 65 tackles and a team-high 15.5 tackles for a loss. He also had 5.5 sacks.
Dustin Bergmeier will once again control the defensive backfield after earning All-GPAC Second Team honors in his first season with the Tigers in 2011. The senior defensive back recorded 41 tackles and two interceptions, and earned GPAC Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors after the Dakota State game.
Defensive lineman Craig Henglefelt is back for his junior senior season after recording 32 tackles, including 10 for a loss, as a sophomore in 2010. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound lineman will provide size and leadership for a young defensive line. Matt Tuttle and Eric Gruis also return from a defense that gave up just 122 rushing yards and 282 total yards of offense per game.
Headlining the special teams is punter Derek Carlson, who led the GPAC and finished eighth in the NAIA with an average 40.8 yards per punt. He earned All-GPAC First Team Special Teams honors as a junior in 2011.
Dakota State started its season on Aug. 25 with a 35-27 loss to Peru State College. The Trojans gave up 28 third-quarter points in the loss. Quarterback Brandon Large threw for 341 yards and receiver Stacey Berg had seven catches for 179 yards and a touchdown.
To go along with Saturday’s season opener, the Tigers are hosting a tailgate prior to kickoff. All Tiger fans are invited to Northridge Park – located two blocks northeast of the stadium and right across the street from Mitchell High School – for a pregame tailgate. There will be food and beverages available for a free-will donation.
For DWU fans who can’t make the game, it can be heard live online at www.kmit.com. The game will also be webcast live thanks in part to Mitchell Telecom at http://www.ustream.tv/discovery/live/all?q=DWUAthletics.