The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

November 9, 2012

MSU looking to end regular season undefeated

MANKATO — Back in 2009, the Minnesota State football team won its first 10 games before playing St. Cloud State in the regular-season finale.

Already assured of a spot in the national playoffs, the Mavericks lost 26-21 at rival St. Cloud State. That loss cost the beat-up Mavericks a first-round bye, and the next week, Minnesota State was eliminated in overtime at home against Hillsdale College.

“We had the momentum of winning 10 games in a row,” said senior cornerback Robert Gunderson, one of six Mavericks who played in that game. “After that, I think we had some doubts. That’s why this game is really pivotal for us.”

The Mavericks host Upper Iowa (2-8) at 1 p.m. today in the regular-season finale at Blakeslee Stadium. Minnesota State (10-0) has already clinched a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and South Division, but a victory would give them solo possession of those titles, a first-round bye in the Super Region playoffs and possibly homefield advantage throughout the regional playoffs.

It was the same scenario in 2009, and the loss at St. Cloud State seemed to steal some of the optimism that surrounded that team.

“I don’t think as a staff, we handled that very well,” defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman said. “We had accomplished so much that year, and I think we should have focused more on that instead of focusing too much what we missed out on.”

The biggest difference between 2009 and this season is that the finale is at home. Upper Iowa has only won twice, but the Peacocks are tough to defend, averaging 444 yards of offense, with 299 yards passing, from a spread offense.

“They do a good job of using multiple personnel packages, so it’s tough to key in on one or two things they do,” Klanderman said. “They do a good job of coming back to things that work, so it forces you to make adjustments. They’re patient. They’re a scary matchup.”

Gunderson, who leads the team with four interceptions, said he thinks the Mavericks can get physical with the receivers and disrupt routes, then make plays on the ball when it’s in the air. Defensive line pressure is always a key to stopping an effective quarterback.

“We know what’s at stake,” Gunderson said. “It might be a bigger game than last week (against Sioux Falls). Bye week, home field for the playoffs ... it’s huge.”

He said there’s a familiar feeling in the locker room as there was in 2009. There’s been good energy at practice, and the team counts on the one-game-at-a-time approach that has worked through the first 10 weeks.

“There might be a better sense of urgency this time,” Gunderson said. “I think everyone has been focused on each week’s game, which will lead us to our ultimate goal of a national championship.

“(An undefeated regular season) would be special, considering this is my senior year, and it would make the last four years of hard work all worth it. It would be the perfect ending to the regular season and give us a boost going into the playoffs.”

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