The Mankato Free Press
---- — One thing you’ve heard a lot over the last year is that the Minnesota State football team seems to plays its best against the better opponents in the biggest games.
It’s hard to argue, given what’s transpired over the last 13 months. Of course, in the biggest game during that stretch was a loss to Valdosta State in the national semifinals, but a 35-19 setback to the eventual national champions, even at Blakeslee Stadium, hardly qualifies as a dud.
Last season, the best teams on the regular-season schedule were St. Cloud State, Augustana, Winona State and Sioux Falls, and the Mavericks swept those four, three of which were on the road. The two home playoff wins were impressive.
Of course, that means nothing for this season, even though the roster is nearly the same. And none of those games will be as tough as Saturday’s trip to Minnesota Duluth.
Despite the Mavericks’ success last season, the Bulldogs are still the kings of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, with two national championships in the last five years as evidence.
So this would be an opportunity for the Mavericks to dethrone the king and change the royal order of the Northern Sun.
But it will take the biggest effort from a team that prides itself in prevailing in the most daunting circumstances.
Ironically, it was a loss at Duluth that ended the 2011 season and cost the Mavericks a playoff berth that may have fueled this last 1 1/2 seasons of success. The Mavericks had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, eventually falling 31-19, but many of the current players were getting their first taste of high-pressure college football atmosphere.
Even though the Mavericks lost that day, it showed the young Mavericks what it takes to win big games at tough places, bringing us back to Saturday.
Minnesota State was the best team in the Northern Sun last season, while Minnesota Duluth was next. Again, that means nothing in this game.
However, this could be the weekend in which Minnesota State takes over as the class of the conference. If you can knock off Minnesota Duluth, on the Bulldogs’ home turf, you can puff your chest a bit.
The winner of this game becomes the favorite to win the Northern Sun, though St. Cloud State will gets its chance later in the season against Minnesota Duluth.
The winner of this game might be the No. 1 seed in the region when those rankings begin.
The winner of this game has a great shot to get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
You get the point. This is a big game.
And given what the Mavericks have accomplished in its last 16 games, you figure they have a lot of confidence to go on the road, against a quality opponent, and win a tough game.
That’s what they did last year. That’s what they hope to do Saturday.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.