Up until this point last season, you had a feeling that the Minnesota State football team was pretty good.
The Mavericks had gone to St. Cloud State and won, which is a pretty good accomplishment for any team, and there was that shocking, 38-point win at Augustana. The Mavericks probably should have lost at home to Southwest Minnesota State, trailing by 14 points with 7 minutes to play before rallying to win in overtime, but that victory also hinted that it might be a magical season.
So in Week 8, Minnesota State had to play a game at Winona State, which had only one loss and was looking for a victory that might signal a rise to the top of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s South Division.
But on that day, the Mavericks said, “No way.”
Minnesota State led 20-6 midway through the third quarter, and after Winona State pulled within 27-20 with 10 minutes to play, the Mavericks tacked on a late field goal for a 30-20 victory.
It was an outcome that pointed the Mavericks toward a special destination, and it derailed Winona State’s hopes of making the playoffs.
So Saturday, Winona State comes to Blakeslee Stadium with a chance to play spoiler. It’s the Mavericks’ toughest opponent of the last four, and it’s a chance to boost the postseason resume while knocking down their main South rival.
Winona State has won five straight games, though two losses to start the season essentially cost the Warriors any chance of making the postseason. That makes Saturday’s game their “playoffs,” with a chance to end the Mavericks’ 18-game regular-season winning streak.
Winona State has the highest-scoring offense in the Northern Sun, though that stat generally takes a hit after playing Minnesota State, which seems to save its best performances for the most accomplished opponents.
And one of the odds things to come out of Minnesota State’s move to the Northern Sun six years ago was that Winona State has become this program’s biggest rival, almost across the board. Not St. Cloud State, not Augustana.
This is something of an anniversary for the Mavericks, who started the march toward the top of this conference and region with the victory at Winona State last season. It’s an opportunity for Winona State to begin its own climb, needing a victory to vault past Minnesota State in the South Division and possibly send a message that the future might be a little more crowded at the top of this league.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.