The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

September 20, 2013

To be king, MSU needs to win at Duluth

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.

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