By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Call it Football Fever, call it Maverick Mania, call it Pigskin Passion. Whatever you want to call it, the Minnesota State football team seems to be responsible for the bulk of it.
In case you haven’t been reading the sports pages lately, the MSU football team has put together an undefeated season and will be hosting an NCAA Division II semifinal game at 2 p.m. this Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium. The excitement has been building since the early part of the year when the Mavericks kept winning.
“Each passing week we’ve been seeing difference groups and individuals come to the forefront and get more involved in support of the team,” MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said. “The MSU student government paired up with the MSU Touchdown Club recently and they’re sponsoring a lot of student tickets. Students have to pay once you get into the postseason so that’s been a big help.”
One measuring stick of increased excitement has been the Touchdown Club’s Friday football luncheons before home games. “Attendance and interest has been steadily rising at those luncheons,” Buisman said.
Jonny Christensen, who played football at MSU from 2004-06, has been actively reaching out to alumni to get them to the games. The job has gotten easier as the team has continued to win.
‘I’ve always cared about the team but now that they’re winning I can’t get enough of it,” Christensen said. ‘I’ve been trying to reach out to some of the older alumni and they’ve been coming around more often.
“With the help of Kevin Buisman we put a tailgate together before the last game and I bet we had more than 70 alumni show up. This week we’re expecting even more.”
The Mavericks have amassed 3,059 yards rushing and 2,175 yards passing on the way to a 13-0 record this season. They have converted 86 percent (60 of 70) of their red zone opportunities, outscoring the opposition 471-216.
Defensively, MSU is limiting opponents to 83.7 yards rushing and 187.5 yards passing per game. The Mavericks have 34 sacks for minus-186 yards and have picked off 22 passes.
Jeff Spann, an All-American player at MSU who played from 1983-87, qualifies as one of the “older” alumni. He said the reason for the uptick in excitement is pretty simple.
“They’re winning,” he said. “People get fired up when you win.”
Spann often goes to games with some fellow alumni who come down from the Cities. He credits the team’s balance and depth for its success this season.
“You can see it when you watch the games,” he said. “They’re rotating in guys on the defensive line, at linebacker, even D-backs. And they have depth at running back, too. That keeps guys fresh if the game is on the line in the fourth quarter.”
Spann said he ran into MSU’s defensive coordinator in the parking lot after last week’s game and had some quick words of advice for him.
“I told him to just keep bringing that heat,” Spann said. “You gotta bring the heat on defense.”