The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 11, 2012

Courrier column: Mavericks must avoid dreaded 'trap'

MANKATO — The definition of a “trap” game: An emotional, hard-fought victory over a traditional rival or successful program, followed by a game against a lesser opponent, with a couple of tougher opponents to follow.

The Minnesota State football team faces a “trap” game Saturday at home against Southwest Minnesota State.

The Mavericks surprised some by starting the season with five straight victories, though only the road victory at St. Cloud State was noteworthy.

Then last weekend, Minnesota State went to Augustana, where the Mavericks hadn’t won since 1998 and came away with an impressive 52-14 victory.

That’s Step 1 of the “trap.”

In the next two weeks, the Mavericks have road games at Winona State and Wayne State, two more programs that are tough to beat on their home fields. That’s Step 3 of the “trap.”

Step 2 is Saturday against Southwest Minnesota State, a team that hasn’t had much success in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and has not beaten the Mavericks in 10 tries, here or at Marshall.

It might help that the Mustangs posted an impressive 40-24 win last week over Wayne State, ending a three-game losing streak for their second victory of the season. Southwest Minnesota State has potential with its passing game, which averages 232.2 yards per game, though the forecast of rain Saturday doesn’t seem conducive to throwing the ball effectively.

The Mavericks’ defense has been rock-solid against both the pass and the run. The offensive line has been punishing opponents, allowing the playmakers to improve each week, despite an injury to the starting quarterback.

That’s a pretty good combination to avoid the “trap” of playing a less successful opponent in the middle of three road games that will define the season.

The Mavericks are the last undefeated team in the Northern Sun and stand five victories away from claiming an overall conference championship. Any slip-up dooms those chances, as well as the possibility of qualifying for the playoffs. You might remember last season that the Mavericks finished in a three-way tie for the Northern Sun title, but the other two teams got into the playoffs, while the Mavericks settled for the Mineral Water Bowl.

Despite its record, Southwest Minnesota State provides a tricky test this week. If the Mustangs get the passing game firing, there could be trouble.

The Mavericks are the better team, but only if they prepare properly and don’t underestimate the Mustangs. Through six games, there’s no reason to think Minnesota State won’t play well.

But that’s the “trap.”

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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